#2: Wordle Swaddle
On the latest comfort blanket
If you are not online then it is excusable but how have you not heard of Wordle. I mean, how. You might have seen those green, yellow, grey squares on twitter that people are sharing, and you might have muted them (I know so many who are absolutely livid and irate about them- but why?!), or you might be one of those who force yourself to stay awake until midnight just to get the next wordle and lie there in the dark whispering 5-letter words to yourself. I am not talking about myself here. Honestly.
Whichever camp your fall into, I just hope that our world does not get divided into wordle-lovers and wordle-haters because honestly we don’t need any more polarisation even though I know it is our natural tendency to organise ourselves into groups, form in-group and out-group associations. But we also know that whatever these groups might be, these membership identities can become stronger over time, and we are more likely to be more prejudiced against those who we do not see as part of our group. So really why can’t we see this as something that unites us rather than what divides us. It is a harmless game, and it is a democratising tool I believe because it is free online (even though some people can’t help monetising everything-ugh), it does not pit people against each other in a leaderboard, and all we are doing is playing against ourselves really. So in that way, it forces us to develop this intrinsic internal motivation that is an asset while so often we are only motivated by external factors and rewards. It does not need any special linguistic skills, it is relatively simple to understand and play, and it does not take very long. So it smooths out the playing field in a way, and frankly it is genius. But I am a fan and so don’t just take my word for it.
The game was designed by Josh Wardle, who developed it for his puzzle-loving partner. The pair played it for fun on their sofa, and other users slowly began to join them. It has grown from 90 daily players in November to 300,000 at the beginning of January, to 2 million last weekend.
Here are a few things that are in my tabs that I have been reading about wordle, and games in general:
Oh ok so some people have looked at the source code and cracked the solutions for the next five years, but why would you do that. LEAVE IT ALONE.
It has really spurred people on to be creative with their own versions of wordle: Welsh version, an ‘yassification’ of Wordle QUEERDLE, ABSURDLE (the machiavellian version of wordle!), a choral music parody BYRDLE, and even Lewdle (you are on your own with this one!).
Why is it the diversion we need right now? (and here is your excuse to get more distracted but only while you are having a break, right?)
How to win at wordle using linguistic theory: this article really appealed to my geeky side one that loves to learn about how languages and words work. It talks about phonotactics, a whole branch of linguistics that looks at the way sounds enter into sequences. (I was also excited about this as I referred to David Shariatmadari’s work in my book (M)otherhood)
I could write so much about this, but to keep this short I think what is really interesting to me, as someone who has worked in user-computer interface design and HCI is about how the simple interface and the graphic design is key to wordle’s success and popularity. It taps into so many of our cognitive structures and processes, allowing us a window into another person’s mental process. I really enjoyed this piece by C. Thi Nguyen, a philosophy professor at the University of Utah and a scholar of games, who shows how the game enables ‘agency expansion’ as we learn to apply strategies from the first grid block to the next, and we all like having agency and autonomy.
We also like to be reminded of the power- and joy- in words and letters that we sometimes forget and start taking for granted as we grow older. As I see my 5-year olds learning to read and write, and their joy in being able to recognise more words and put letters together, it reminds me of why wordle is such a ‘babe’. In the current mostly bleak times, it is a spark of joy, something that has united us beyond our political affiliations and it reminds us that we all love letters and words, and that even a 5-letter word can tell us a whole story.
If you have any thoughts on this, please do share. If you would like to share this piece or this newsletter with anyone, I would love you (almost as much as wordle).
Signing off now to open more tabs.
Have a great day!