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Wordle Scares The Hell Out Of Me

We thought it was too pure to ruin. We were wrong.

By Jackson FordPublished about a year ago 5 min read

Like millions of other people, I take a little Wordle with my coffee.

I don't need to describe to you what Wordle is. You probably play it already. And if you don't: here. Go on—it's OK. It'll take you five minutes, it's ridiculously good fun, it doesn't demand your extended attention or your data, and it's completely free (for now, anyway—more on that in a minute)

You're probably also familiar with the story of how it got made. Developer makes partner a word game for her birthday, she loves it, he puts it online, everyone else loves it. That includes me. I ADORE Wordle. I'm not usually a fan of word games—weird, given what I do for a living—but it's something small that makes me happy every morning. It kickstarts my brain, gives me a well-earned boost of dopamine, and asks nothing from me but my desire to solve a small puzzle. And I can only solve one a day: the puzzle resets at midnight, and not a moment before.

It is pure. It is perfect. It is something innocent and delightful in a deeply fucked up world.

And it terrifies me.

Maybe I should clarify. I'm not scared of five-letter words—well, except TAXES and DILDO and TEXAS. Puzzles don't make me freak out. Rather, it's what Wordle has revealed about us, and about the capitalist hellscape we live in, that scares me.

No sooner had Josh Wardle's fun little puzzle become popular than the takes started coming. My Google News feed detected that I was playing and started to serve me CONTENT. Sites interviewed linguists to find the best starting word. Others broke down tips to 'win'. Still more told me with glee about the jackasses trying to make a quick buck with copycat apps. An endless parade of dancing, singing shit.

And all I could think was: is this what we do now? Even when something is completely pure, and not motivated by money or data? We want to win. We want to get an edge. We want to make money off it. We want to drive clicks and time on page and eyeballs and subscriptions and likes. We want to get mad that the man who made Wordle didn't seem to want to make a profit from it. We wish to knowingly snark on Twitter how tired we are of those damn little coloured squares everyone is sharing. We even get a kick out of making bots to ruin the game for everyone else by spoiling the answers (because fuck you, that's why LOL).

Wordle was deliberately designed not to distract you, not to keep your attention for more than a few minutes. It was designed without ads, it didn't want your data, it just wanted you to enjoy. But we just couldn't stop ourselves, could we? We couldn't look away from the gaping maw of capitalism, even for a second. We had to dissect and discuss and debate and whittle the game down to a stub, dollar signs flashing in our eyes even when most of us would never make a single buck from the game. What does that say about us? By now, this behaviour is baked in. There's no escaping it.

And then, inevitably, someone bought Wordle. The New York Times, for a "low seven-figure sum". It will stay free, for now, but inevitably it will move behind a paywall and become festooned with fuck-ugly ads, like every piece of shit website in the world right now.

This is Kotaku, one of the most popular gaming sites around. Where the story I clicked on occupies around 20% of the screen, and the rest is occupied by bullshit and empty space. Oh, and autoplaying videos with an X button that does nothing, because who doesn't love those?

You know what really gets me? Some of these sites had the fucking audacity to publish think pieces with titles like Wordle Sells Out. As if they themselves aren't run by a group of Wall Street investors who will do anything to make a quick buck (Gizmodo, the site in that link, is owned by Great Hill Partners - a private equity firm).

To be clear: I'm not mad at Josh Wardle for doing the deal. Get your money, dude! Wordle is his, he made it, and if it gives him enough money to live in comfort with his partner and provide for his family, then who the fuck am I to complain about that? I don't like the deal, because it will alter something I love, but I have no right to be selfish.

Besides, if the NYT really does stick it behind a paywall, I can just download the whole game for free and play it until the end of time. One way or another, I'll be able to keep getting my Wordle fix.

And here's what you're probably thinking: you gigantic hypocrite. If your books somehow became rapidly and universally popular, you wouldn't say a single word about the inevitable think pieces and hot takes. You'd love them. You'd share them. So shut the fuck up, you nauseating turd.

Fine, you probably phrased it differently in your mind, and I hope you don't think of me as a nauseating turd. Work with me here, OK?

The key difference between my work and Wordle is that my work is only available for profit. I write these books to sell them. While I'd probably write stories even if nobody wanted to buy them, my hope is that they will. In doing that, I've entered into something of a contract with the reading public: you pay me, and you'll get the right to both read my work and have an opinion on it, which you may share at will. I cannot very well complain if this is exactly what happens. I'm not saying it will happen; just that I can't complain if it ever does. I am, for better or worse, a public figure—albeit one who only the nerdiest of nerds might ever recognise in public.

Wordle doesn't deserve this. It doesn't deserve to be the subject of HOT TAKE CONTENT CLICKBAIT. It isn't ruined—none of these horrible bits of content effluvia altered it one jot. But it scares the hell out of me that we, as a society, can do this to something as pure and as simple as a word game a dude made for the person he loves.

This article comes directly from my weekly newsletter, Sh*t Just Got Interesting. Want to read stories like it a week before anyone else? Sign up here. And you get a free audiobook too, which is nice.


About the Creator

Jackson Ford

Author (he/him). I write The Frost Files. Sometimes Rob Boffard. Always unfuckwittable. Major potty mouth. A SH*TLOAD OF CRAZY POWERS out now!

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Comments (2)

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  • Kim6 months ago

    Loooooove Wordle

  • Manisha Dhalani9 months ago

    Love Wordle!

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