The Last of Us vs. Mental Maps 🧐

A 30 sec scene blows up twitter because Americans DO know geography! (🧐Map Facts Series)

Feb 13, 2023

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In this post:
  1. Quick Intro

  2. This Week’s Video/Story

  3. Extra Credit: What Are Mental Maps?


Quick Intro

This week I went on vacation to celebrate my birthday (I won’t tell you my age, but you’re welcome to guess. Any guesses over 50 immediately disqualified).

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make a video while away, but thanks to my wife and our newest TV obsession with The Last of Us, I actually posted while on vacation! (yes, I’m impressed with myself also).

This latest post is very quick topical commentary that covers the intersection between geography and pop culture. It shows that whether you think you “know geography” or not, you can’t escape it in everyday life. Spatial awareness is an innate core skill set we all possess.

[PS I’m experimenting here with the Substack video post feature (instead of embedding video from YouTube)… Feel free to let me know if you prefer one over the other. Thank you!]

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This Week’s Story:

What’s 10 miles west of Boston?


But not this…

Scene from HBO’s “The Last of Us” (Season 1, Ep 3)

If you haven’t heard, the HBO show The Last Of Us caused a stir with this scene that was supposed to be “10 miles outside of Boston,” but based on viewer reactions, it failed pretty badly.

Here’s where that scene really took place:

This is good proof that Americans do know geography! (sort of?)

It’s a great example of mental maps: the innate ability we all have to map out our environment.

It’s actually a pretty neat skill if you think about it: you don’t know that river, you’ve likely never been near there, but when someone says that’s near Boston your mental map kicks in and you find you know a lot more about where that place is than you thought. At least enough to know you’re not in Kansas anymore.

Your mental map gets you to the grocery store and gives you that spidey sense when you took a wrong turn.

It can also make you think Maine is more north than Minnesota (it’s not) or that Africa couldn’t possibly line up with the US (it does).

What are Mental Maps?

a simple explanation:

Mental maps is an important and well-studied subject in geography. It refers to a person’s specific perception of the areas and places they frequent, and their relationship with each other.

A simple example of a mental mapping is if you were asked to draw a map of your neighborhood from memory. Everyone can do draw a map of their neighborhood, but each of us will usually draw different maps, even if we live next to each other: I might point out my block, the gas station at the corner, and the highway intersection that’s not too far away; whereas my neighbor might draw all the houses in a 2-block radius, forget about the gas station, and point to the highway off the map as if its in a different zip code.

These are examples of our mental maps. Every one of us keeps a unique and particular map in our mind of our surroundings. It’s based on the places we frequent, the ways we travel, the landmarks we choose to associate with where we are. Our mental map is never entirely accurate (nor does it need to be), but it serves our specific purpose of getting around pretty well.

Mental mapping can also have an adverse affect: we tend to leave out (“forget about”) or mislocate places we don’t frequent or prefer to associate with our areas of interaction. This can lead to unconscious bias.

For more information about mental mapping, here’s some links (there’s tons of interesting info out there. It’s a big field of study!):

Wikipedia: Mental Mapping

ThoughtCo: What is a Mental Map?

National Geographic: Why Your Mental Map is (probably) Wrong

End Note: Anything you’d like to see/read in the future… I’m always around -


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