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Culture

Wordle Is a Fun Game. And it’s Also More Than That.

It’s a simpler, more romantic, form of the internet – a place where there are conversations to be had, without worrying about what’s around the corner.

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Note: This article was published a day after it was written, to avoid spoilers for fellow Wordle players.

I was annoyed this morning. At a man I’ve never met or spoken to – and, in all likelihood, never will. Also a man who has given me something to look forward to every day, over the last few weeks, at a time when small joys have much-more-than-small significance.

John Wardle is from Wales. Fine, he lives in Brooklyn, but surely, he doesn’t spell ‘favour’ without the ‘u’? It turns out, he does – and hence my Wednesday morning annoyance.

Wardle, as nearly everyone who spends time online will know by now, is the creator of the suddenly popular word game, Wordle (Wardle, Wordle, you get it). There’s one puzzle released every day, just one, free for anyone who wants to play. After you are done, you have the option to share your results – either in a message to a friend, or more widely on social media. The results are shared without fanfare; there’s not even a link or an explanation. It’s a cute green, grey, yellow mosaic showing how many tries it took you to get to the answer, and other enthusiasts can look at it and try and figure out what your steps were.

The game also comes with a warm and fuzzy story: Wardle designed it for his partner, a word game enthusiast. He then shared it with a family group and was met with instant praise, pushing him to make it public in October 2021. As more and more people discovered it, conversations began and people came up with ways to share their results. Seeing this, Wardle designed the grid share system we’re now familiar with – but that means little to those who are yet to discover the game.

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Wordle’s popularity has skyrocketed. Every website you turn to will have an explainer on what it is and how to play it (which you really don’t need; the three-line intro Wardle provides is more than sufficient). Some have even gone so far as to posit the use of “linguistic theory” to “crack” this puzzle that involves only five-letter words. At the other end of the spectrum are those criticising it as being a game of chance, since you have nothing to go on when you make your first guess. That’s not quite true, though; what you have to go on is the English language itself, and the probability of some letters making an appearance over others.

The game’s growth has been spectacular; as of last weekend, two million people globally were playing it every day. In India, there’s apparently a 48% average daily growth in how much ‘Wordle’ is mentioned on Twitter.

And yet, despite this spontaneous boom, Wordle still looks and feels like a game a software engineer may have designed for his partner, on a whim. I don’t mean that it’s glitchy or hard to use; on the contrary, it’s clean and charming. No-nonsense. It doesn’t ask for any personal details. There’s no advertising. Nobody makes money off of it (some rip-offs tried, and were immediately frowned upon). Even if it’s addictive, you can’t spend more than a few minutes playing every day. You come, you play, you talk about it, and then you move on – until the clock strikes midnight again. It’s a simpler, more romantic, form of the internet.

Wordle has come into our lives at a time when the omicron variant has us all largely house-bound again, social interactions limited to screens for the large part. While crosswords and other word puzzles of that kind have an aura of privacy and intimacy around them, Wordle is something most people play with a community – you share your results, people respond, others complain about why everyone is obsessed with it, and conversations are triggered. (Also, unlike a crossword, a Wordle puzzle will only take you a couple of minutes, and won’t particularly test your vocabulary.) Love it or hate it (though I’m sure you’d only hate it if you haven’t yet tried it, because otherwise really, what’s not to love), Wordle gets you talking.

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COVID-19 has made our days both incredibly uncertain and unimaginably mundane. Often, even if you do want to reach out and talk to someone, there just isn’t all that much to say – how many different ways can you describe how you did your job, or walked from your bedroom to your kitchen? Wordle, then, has found a way to fill multiple voids; not only does it give you a few minutes away from thinking about whatever you’d rather not think about, it’s also one definitive conversation you can have with others.

And if you’re not into any of that, at least it’s given you – and, no doubt, some friends who share that opinion – a new internet trend to hate on. And hate on together.