If you’ve been narrowing your eyes and scratching your head at all the seemingly random colored cubes and inexplicable scores showing up on your social media feeds the last few weeks, don’t worry. Your Facebook friends, having uploaded their brains into an AI – not yet anyway – they’re just playing the latest word game craze to sweep the internet: Wordle.
Like many app games that have taken the net by storm, Worlde is almost ridiculously simple. The player has six tries to guess a five-letter word. After the sixth try, the tiles change colors to gray, showing which letters are not in the word, yellow, showing which letters are in the word but the wrong position, and green, showing which ones are in the right position.
The game can be rather simple or extremely hard, like sudoku or a crossword puzzle. It all depends on the player’s temperament. Once you “win” you get to post to Facebook or Twitter to crow about how fast you guessed your word. Or bemoan just how long you took. In the above examples, Director Adam McCay shows off a perfect, guessed it in one, all green score. 1/6 or first guess out of six. The other post shows a more typical score of a third out of six guess win with the resulting yellow and gray squares shown.
The game’s inventor, software engineer Josh Wardle – the game’s name is a play on his own – came up with the concept to amuse his partner, Patak Shah, a fan of word games. Shah ended up helping with the development. Worldle is free to play; however, a copycat app is attempting to cash in on its popularity by offering a paid subscription.
The actual game’s popularity has been completely grassroots and word of mouth, spreading from Wordle and Shah’s sofa to friends to friends of those friends and beyond. Part of its appeal may come from the fact that the game, by design, can only be played once a day. A strangely compelling feature for today’s binge-watch, do all the things, culture.
Wardle has a simpler explanation; in an interview with The Guardian, he states, “Even though I play it every day, I still feel a sense of accomplishment when I do it: it makes me feel smart, and people like that.”
Wordle is almost a contradiction of every rule of thumb in online gaming. It asks for no information, doesn’t mine your data, it doesn’t even send push notifications. It’s so opposite to given models that its 2.7 million players practically beggars the imagination. Wardle, for his part, is a bit overwhelmed by it all. He told NPR, “I need to be really thoughtful. It’s not my full-time job, and I don’t want it to become a source of stress and anxiety in my life. If I do make any changes, I would like to think they are changes I would have made even if it was just [my partner and I] playing.”