The absurd satisfaction of playing Foursquare

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When I try to explain to people that I'm really into four square these days, I get a lot of blank looks. That's the natural reaction, given that most people's first association is of course to think of the schoolyard game. And sure, that's good fun, but I haven't played it in probably 15 years. The Foursquare I'm referring to is a kind of game, and a kind of social networking service -- and yes, you can score points, but that's only part of the fun.

Foursquare, from the same programmers who created the much loved and now closed service Dodgeball (they have a thing for games), is a mobile social networking game -- you "check in" from wherever you are, either using their iPhone app or via text message, and it lets your friends know where you are and what you're doing. This is useful enough as it is, and joins the growing ranks of location services like Loopt and Google Latitude that are all about broadcasting where you are and keeping track of your movements. Instead of connecting people through friends of friends, these networks connect people through what they do and where they go. Rather than learning about you by reading your list of favorite movies, I can find out what your favorite bars are, and how you spend a Saturday afternoon. Foursquare adds another element to this interaction, though: You get points for your check ins, and badges for reaching certain achievements; for instance, the Bender Badge is awarded if you check in more than four times in a row in any given week.

The points don't get you anything, except for the respect and admiration of other Foursquare users. There's a leaderboard you can check out from your iPhone, which ranks you against your friends and other people in your city (so far, the service is available in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, LA, Minneapolis, NYC, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC). Since each check in means points, there's an incentive to check in with every little thing you do -- it gets addictive quickly. At the deli? Better check in! Waiting at the bus stop? Let the world know about it! Like the absurd mundanity of Twitter, Foursquare encourages broadcasting the small stuff, letting people know where you went for lunch. And that's exactly the appeal -- get to know what I do, and you'll get to know who I am. And there's an undeniable joy at finding yourself near the top of the week's leaderboard. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go check in -- I'm trying to earn some points here.

You can check in, too -- The Takeaway's playing a game with your morning routine, and you can revel in the glory of winning points by calling in to 1-877-8-MY-TAKE, by emailing us at or by leaving a comment. Let us know the insane and incredibly mundane things you're up to. Instructions are here.

Scott Lamb is a senior editor at BuzzFeed. Related:
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