Wordle is a board game that you can only play once a day.
Pragya Agarwal, The Independent
If you haven’t met Wordle yet, we can’t be friends. Unless you’ve lived somewhere far from civilization, and on no social media, then that’s excusable. But, otherwise, you couldn’t have missed this online game that has taken the world by storm. Well, my world.
I wait until midnight so I can get the next episode of the game, lying in the dark whispering five-letter words to myself. There’s only one game a day, you see, and that’s really one of its appeals. You can play it once a day, then that’s it for the next 23 hours and 45 minutes (approximately).
What started as a game that Josh Wardle designed for his partner during lockdown had around two million players last weekend. But, as soon as people started sharing their results as grey, yellow and green grids on Twitter, there was a backlash. I started seeing posts from people who seem to hate Wordle with a vengeance, and many who started cutting the word (fair enough). Some people looked at the source code to do a sort of reverse engineering of Wordle and find out the solutions for future games. And, soon after, someone created a bot that responded to any post on Twitter by sharing their score with the answer to the next day’s challenge.
So why would anyone hate something that’s free and hasn’t been monetized for capital gains, and something that’s a simple game that only brings respite in these dark times when our timelines and our news is populated with pandemic, lockdown and disappointments from our politicians?
There can be several reasons for this. There are those who find Wordle difficult. They can’t find it. And among these people are writers and poets – those who love words and work with words every day. So why do they find this relatively simple game impossible to decipher?
Wordle relies on simple strategies of eliminating and recalling words from the database into our working memory. There are only a limited number of five-letter words, and as we go through the grid we eliminate a number of them. It also draws on our knowledge of digraphs and trigraphs, the combinations of words that commonly exist together: CH, TH, KN, etc.
And so, while you can just improvise (I often do), there are strategies fueled by linguistic theories that can help people find the word in a minimum of steps. Or you can sometimes get lucky and guess the right word on the first step.
Then there are other psychological and behavioral aspects to this backlash. It is inevitable that some people will hate things that become popular. There is always cynicism and snobbery associated with anything that is part of popular culture. Hating popular things can become cool.
Social media also heightens polarization, and people feel a secure sense of identity by associating with a particular group, even “enemies”. If you can’t be in a group, hate them.
And, yes, research has shown that we are more biased against those we don’t consider part of our group. But by associating with a specific group, people also build a stronger affiliation with their group by attacking the popular group.
For once the Wordle-rs (if that’s the right word for those who Wordle) were popular: having conversations, sharing scores and joy, and that can annoy people who view these things as frivolous, or inherently believe that we don’t deserve any joy right now. How dare you laugh and share something I can’t be a part of? Even if they choose to refuse to be a part of it because somehow they consider it beneath them. Or it could be the natural way we organize ourselves – into hierarchies – as we have always done, throughout history. By saying that those who play this stupid game are “below” them, maybe people are exercising dominance over them.
Then there is also the theory that people try to rebel against anything they see as normative social influence in order to exercise their individualism. It’s a resistance to being part of a group, even if in the end it’s not individualistic at all, because people who hate or dislike Wordle are also a group in themselves.
Our behaviors are so rooted in our tendency to create these bubbles for ourselves. It’s sad that even something as comforting and joyful as a free online game can be used to create these divisions, where our self-esteem becomes so intrinsically tied to these lines we draw in the sand around us – and which end up trapping us. .