I know, I know, I play it too.
For those that don’t know, Wordle is a game in which users must solve a five-letter word puzzle. If the solution were “HUSKY,” and a player guessed “JUMPS,” the U would appear green, indicating that it is both included in the solution and in the correct position. The S would appear yellow, indicating that it is a part of the final word but not in the correct position, and the J, M and P would appear gray, indicating that they are not a part of the final word. Players have six guesses per day, and the word resets at midnight EST.
The game was created by Josh Wardle, who designed the game for his girlfriend, a fellow coder, as a quick morning brain teaser. In January, Wardle sold Wordle to the New York Times for a number “in the low seven figures.” Since its inception, Wordle has seen massive success, going from fewer than 100 daily users in November to millions today.
To many, Wordle is nothing more than a fun puzzle to start the day off with; to others, it’s a foundation for competition and a source of catharsis. Those who solve it in two or three attempts are filled with a sense of pride, and those who fail to solve the puzzle are viewed as intellectually inferior by those who did. Wordle has transcended into a construct of judgment, one which has transformed from an innocent puzzle to a metric for cognitive ability and social standing.
A recent video on YouTube by 3Blue1Brown explained a computer program he created which sought to “solve” Wordle, presenting the most efficient first guess (for those wondering, it was “SALET”). Although an interesting glimpse into the world of information theory, the notion of “SALET” has severe implications on the very essence of the game itself, and it is through this that an underlying conflict begins to expose itself: winning versus learning.
A phenomenon I would classify as similar to cheating in chess, the idea that one must optimize their Wordle guesses, and the very pressure that exists to do so, defeats the intended purpose of the game: to be fun, stress-free and nothing more. Rather than encouraging problem solving, Wordlians prefer an efficiency-based approach, one which minimizes their number of guesses in order to avoid public scrutiny.
“Six guesses is embarrassing,” spoken in one’s best Regina George impression, has been a phrase everyone has heard either verbally or from their own internal narrative, and this simply shouldn’t be. Wordle has become toxic; users compete against each other in the name of winning rather than learning, rivalry rather than entertainment in what was once a game turned viral sensation.
So how do we combat this? It has become increasingly clear that users’ intentions are directed at efficiency rather than problem solving, as is the case with most popularized games these days. However, there is still hope. For every chess grandmaster there is the casual player, much like how for every scholar there is the occasional reader in the same field. If efficiency is what you value when playing Wordle, wonderful, but this does not provide a rationale for the judgment of others who simply enjoy the game casually.
To put it simply: make Wordle fun again, for the more laid back players, and for the fellow tryhards out there (I’m talking to you, Owen, you bloke).