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Wordle: A Social Revolution

Euan reflects on the reasons behind Wordle’s recent success, and its potential longevity

One might be surprised by the pleasure and satisfaction which can be gained from guessing a five-letter word; with considerable help, it must be said. But Wordle’s joy is in its simplicity. Its lack of frills, levels and graphical fidelity only adds to enjoyment produced by a simple, stripped-down web app.  

Wordle’s selling point, beyond the self-serving intellectual validation which it provides, is the social aspect. In the absence of procedural levels, the game’s daily word allows for the sharing of your result among friends or strangers on Twitter, if that’s how you derive your fun. Despite this competitive aspect, Wordle retains a level of integrity. The ability to search up the day’s Wordle and parade your apparent intelligence across the internet is combatted not only by the fact that for one, very few people care, but also by the hollowness of the victory. Wordle has managed to combine both the fear of failure, should you not guess the word, with a converse sense of dissatisfaction, or guilt, if you effectively cheat. And it is this, I must admit, which has made Wordle a surprisingly stressful experience. This positive aspect, the sharing of your result, has become an intellectual rat race and while it is entertaining to witness so starkly Paddy Miller’s inability to spell, there resides a fear that you too could be caught out by some archaic appellation. 

There are, of course, new variations of Wordle. Le mot, for one, provides any Francophones or those who like an unnecessary number of vowels in their words with the opportunity to enjoy Wordle. But the more interesting spin-off, I would argue, is Worldle, in which an outline of a country or territory is provided, and you have six attempts with the game telling you how far you are from the correct location. While this may just be an indictment on my own geographical knowledge, I do find it more challenging and, as such, this aforementioned fear of failure is relieved. The Wordle format’s aptitude to be moulded into different forms, so different from the original premise, is impressive and it is a testament to the simplicity and appeal of Wordle that these variations have sprung from it and been, to some extent, successful. The social aspect has allowed Wordle to reach a level of zeitgeist which allows for these spin-offs to thrive from splinters of the original community. 

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This new-found world of Wordle has, however, been threatened by its acquisition by The New York Times. While the app remains free as of writing, it does not take the greatest of cynic to expect that this will not remain the case. One would expect the media giant to align Wordle with their other puzzle assets, such as their crossword, behind a paywall. This decision would ironically kill the very social aspect which made Wordle such a proposition for the New York Times. It would be an exclusionary move which render Wordle a mere addition to a portfolio as opposed to the cultural status which it has gained. It would, however, not be such a tragedy. While it would take many years, the English language only has so many five letter words and, thus, Wordle’s time is finite. And, more importantly, the popularity it has gained will fade. It will transform, for many, into an occasional tipple from a daily routine, a process which would be accelerated by an introduction of a paywall. While many may have expected this phenomenon to have fizzled out already, Wordle will be a flash-in-the-pan. Reference to it in cultural parlance will eventually be extinguished by time and boredom. But, at this moment, it still limps on from day to day: powered by a mixture of amusement and sense of community which has carried it thus far. 

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