A More Cynical Look At Geocacher Development

Back in 2010, I wrote a post on the Geocacher Stages Of Evolution. It was a tongue-in-cheek theory based on my observations.

Now IowaAdmin, a cacher since 2001 and Geocaching.com reviewer since 2003, has proposed his own, slightly more cynical, view of geocacher development. Some interesting bits include …

Pre-geocaching phase, also known as “muggle”
You may own a GPS. You may be a hiker. You may even be a letterboxer. But until you first become aware that there is an organised activity called geocaching with thousands of people taking part, you are quite simply … a muggle.
Something I forgot to include in my own theory; I feel a revision coming on.
The Curious Excitement phase
You found the Geocaching.com website or found a geocache by accident, or you were introduced to the sport by a family member, co-worker, neighbour, someone you met on a trail, or by a story in the news media …
The Irrational Exuberance phase
The phase begins with your first geocache find. In this phase, unless you were introduced to geocaching by a friend or family member, you have not yet met another geocacher. After your first find, the “irrational exuberance” phase either continues or it is squelched …
This is a very good observation on the ‘first impressions count’ side of our addiction. Having introduced a few people first-hand to geocaching, there is profound disappointment from them if one of their early experiences is a poor cache.
The Quest For Recognition (QFR) phase
For many geocachers, the next phase involves a desire to be recognised by the local and/or worldwide geocaching “community.” This phase manifests itself in different ways to different people …
This part of the theory is interesting as it implies that every cacher has a quest for recognition, whereas I tend to think that there are quite a number who plod happily along. It also puts the storytelling side of geocaching in a more negative light.
The Flame-out phase. Also known as “My Life-Changing Situation”
At some point, obsessed geocachers arrive at a stark realisation: “There are other geocachers who are even more obsessed than I am and therefore I will never be able to reach the pinnacle in my Quest For Recognition (QFR).” For many geocachers, this is a bitter pill to swallow. Of course, while this scenario is the cause of many flame-outs, it is NEVER admitted to be the cause.
Again, a little definitive as I know of a few long-term obsessed cachers who are yet to flame. Interestingly, from this point of view, the realisation that you cannot ‘reach the pinnacle’ in your recognition quest is the cause of the flame-out. Tone down the cynicism a little and that flame-out phase becomes something quite recognisable – that period of time when caching motivations change for any number of reasons.
I recall from my Psychology of Sport papers that there are peaks and troughs in motivation/interest for any activity. It is interesting that the difference between a long-term athlete and short to mid-term athlete is that the long-term athlete recognises the peaks and troughs, plans in advance for them and knows how to ‘get back on the horse’.
It occurs to me that this surely applies to geocaching, where any number of factors (only sometimes QFR) lead to a drop off in interest and not everyone will find the motivation to pick their once favourite hobby up again in the future. We also know that the longer someone commits to something, whether that is exercise, sport or losing weight, the more likely they are to pick it up again after a break/fall in motivation. This explains why we see so many people ‘getting back into it’ after a lengthy time away.
In its most severe form, a flame-out is punctuated by a “geocide”. This term refers to a geocacher who publicly disavows geocaches, geocachers and all things geocaching. In effect, he or she commits virtual suicide of his Geocaching.com identity and vows in the forums to never return to the forums/logs/events/game again.
I love the term ‘Geocide’ and the notion of ‘committing virtual suicide’.
The “It’s not about the numbers – No really, I mean it this time” phase
After pursuing the Quest For Recognition phase, followed either by a graceful flame-out or a not-so-graceful geocide, geocachers generally enter the “It’s not about the numbers – No really, I mean it this time” phase.
Again, a little cynical for my liking. Like most things in life, this isn’t black and white. For me, it isn’t about the numbers. I’d estimate 80 per cent of it is the journey, the hunt and the discovery of new places. About 10 per cent is the numbers, which for me is taking joy in achieving milestones or looking at stats.
The “Rodney King (Can’t we all just get along?)” phase
This phase is evidenced when a geocacher posts a forum message with the central theme of: “Everyone should be allowed to play the game the way he or she wants to.” While this is truly a noble and harmonious sentiment, few geocachers actually believe it.
I disagree here as well. I think it is possible for geocachers to believe we should be allowed to play the way we want to, but have preferences toward certain aspects of the game.

Overall, IowaAdmin’s theory is a good read and well worth a visit. It will likely resonate with you if your glass is half-empty, and it won’t if your glass is half-full.

But maybe I’m just too far into my Rodney King phase to tell you what I really think. 😉

*Got a thought on this? Let us know in the comments. 


  1. IowaAdmin

    Thanks for reposting some of my blog. I suppose cynical is one way to describe my post about phases of a geocacher but I didn’t mean it to be harsh. It was meant to poke a little fun at all of us as a geocaching community. Sometimes we take ourselves and geocaching a little too seriously, IMHO. As a reviewer, 98% of the geocachers I interact with on a daily basis have great, fun-loving attitudes about this activity. It’s the other 2% that cause me to shake my head and wish they would take their chill pills.

  2. Nighthawk700

    You have a link where you mention IowaAdmin’s posting, but it links back to your own previous posting. Was there supposed to be a link to IowaAdmin’s post there?

    1. Cumbyrocks

      Thanks for pointing that out. Link now fixed.

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