This is a version of Charlie Warzel’s newsletter, Galaxy Brain. Register here.
What follows are, as I know, the tormented notes of someone who needs to be logged out. But I want to talk about Wordle’s online dynamics and what happens when things get too popular (hint: backlash!).
Wordle is a modern, web-based word game that is not monetized and it is impossible to overdo it because there is only one puzzle a day. It’s simple but also feels fresh and unique. There is a social component – you can share your results without giving up the answer to the puzzle – but it is perhaps the least offensive and non-problematic viral phenomenon to achieve escape velocity in some time. This indifference has a lot to do with why so many people are happy with the game. The risks are very low. It can make you feel momentarily smart but not super Intelligent. It can be frustrating but it’s also hard to take very seriously.
But this is the Internet – the place where any reaction to a trend or piece of information is not only possible, but also probable. This means that without a lot of searching, you can find a group of people who take Wordle seriously. Likewise, you can find people who have made being a Wordler a huge part of who they are on the internet… seemingly overnight! And so it makes sense that there will also be people who, reflexively, hate the game and its (sometimes annoying) fans. This is how you get people building Twitter bots with the goal of spoiling the game for anyone tweeting their puzzle:
I’m not suggesting that Wordle is in the midst of a massive backlash that threatens the game itself, but like anything that is burning hot on the Internet, the popularity has inspired an extraordinary number of People who are they accomplishment enthusiastically and sharing of dozens.
I’m not trying to be a reprimand for Wordle’s backlash. It is an example of a naturally occurring phenomenon in our current culture. But the dynamics, as it relates to this game, are luminous. We’re not talking about abolition culture or critical race theory, or even about remaking a piece of fandom-rich intellectual property with all sorts of emotions attached. We are talking about a web game where you spell a word of five letters.
This is what the rise of Wordle looked like from my own favorites:
Day 1: Seeing sporadic tweets from people I don’t know in my feed. discard.
Day 2: See the same scattered tweets, but now one from someone I know in real life. click tweet; Try to decipher the different colored symbols. became disoriented thinking. lose interest.
Day 3: See a massive increase in tweets. People I know and whose taste I trust speak of Wordle as if they were members of a club they joined a decade ago. fascinated by. Also suspicious. I’m still confused. lose interest.
Day 4: Seeing enough tweets in my feed that I suppose this is the last mania of three days for my group of addicted Twitter content knights. Reflexively angry due to internet fatigue. lose interest.
Day 5: Realize that people like this. genuinely. be seen New York Times article This creator is a man. Decided that this would be something I am not involved in but fully support my online siblings.
Day 6: Hear a local radio station’s DJ comment on “Wordle Today”. I realize it’s a phenomenon. break and play. Love her. Tell my friends.
Day 7: Anxiety because I talk a lot about this game.
Day 8: Draw my attention to the abundance of content on the best strategies. Think: just enjoy the thing!
Day 9: Worried that everyone is talking too much about the game and that a backlash is imminent.
Day 10: I realize it’s time to consider anxiety medications.
Day Eleven: Look – oh yeah – the escalating backlash. (I warned you earlier that I need to log out.)
You might be asking yourself why any of this is important, and that’s a great question. What I describe may very well be the nature of folk things since the dawn of history. But there is an internet flavor to this. What happened with Wordle is really only possible in an environment where there is simply too much information.
Wordle came into our lives at the perfect time – during a frosty holiday season amid the outbreak of a global pandemic. Somehow, we were ready for something like this. Over the past 20 months, many people have been glued to the internet and the technologies that relentlessly mediate our everyday experience. For many of us, these technologies have crossed the point of inertia and entered the realm of resentment: zoom stress. Facebook groups bickering constantly. Endless TikTok scripts. Netflix boredom. The feeling of having a million channels and nothing to watch. And here comes something that feels old school, even timeless, and thus, Fresh.
People have compared Wordle to making sourdough bread or tiger kingActivities that marked and defined their era of epidemic. I think this is true for some people who have been feeling particularly alienated, isolated or overwhelmed over the past couple of years. In most of these epidemic hobbies, people have engaged in an activity as a life raft. It’s a distraction, yes, but it’s more than that, too. There is an unsettling charge to it, as if many of us hold it tight, but instead of acknowledging it, we give it more oxygen and assign it a greater role in our daily lives. I’m not judging here – that’s how people do it. Small communities are forming on platforms everywhere, sending out arithmetic signals that make even the most obsessive voices louder. This happens (you never want to share “Twitter trending topics”):
On the algorithm-based internet, this kind of slightly manic behavior sends a red alert to creators of all kinds. In this case, the Wordle content must be published. We get Wordle origin stories, Wordle strategy articles, and “How Wordle Went Viral” articles. Then there’s the second-rate content, which is even more impressive: “Which Wordle Board are you?” , “This Mom Taught Her Two-Year-Old To Wordle And I Can’t Now,” “Utah Couple- Wordle- Inspirational Gender Reveal Lifts People In Their Arms.” It’s too much information.
For those who aren’t on the Wordle train or aren’t particularly happy with the game, this familiar cycle of information and fanbase overload is not only exhausting, but alienating. the people Which makes Wordle their entirety It becomes annoying enough to the person doing it ball Wordle their entire character. These people are loud and provocative online, and thanks to social platforms that reward participation, their voices are amplified. So the most provocative, upset, enthusiastic, and supportive Wordle crews find each other seamlessly and begin to irritate each other.
This might sound a bit exciting for a word game and…it is! But the low stakes is what I find particularly interesting about Wordle Speech. On the one hand, you have people who seem crazy and smother, corrupt or scold wordliers, and on the other you have people who are ostensibly obsessed. But I’m not sure what we are be seen Online is an accurate representation of what people really feel about this game. I will use myself as an example. I’ve now written hundreds of words about this game and have tweeted about it probably dozens of times in several days. You’d be right to assume I’m a geek and that’s a big part of Charlie in January 2022. Actually, though, I get up in the morning enjoying solving a puzzle over coffee. Then I talked to my partner about it for 60 seconds to three minutes. And I go ahead. When it pops up in my feeds, I might be tempted to share it because it’s something I think is cool and I like that I enjoy something that other people enjoy too. To me, Wordle is an ephemeral community built on what is probably a fairly perennial fad. Nearly two years into the epidemic, this has been enough to rise to the level of a “bright spot in my day”.
I also bet people who hate or make fun of Wordle have done so for similar unofficial reasons. Maybe they’re upset about 40 other terrible things and frustrated with the attention lavished on something they don’t personally enjoy. Or maybe they enjoy it, but are tired of the way fans on the internet and social media/information systems take the good stuff and run them through the meat grinder until they become the dried, discolored husks of their former selves. Understood! But it’s also possible for you to feel that way and make a few tweets and then never think about it again.
Wordle’s general reception fascinates and worries me because it is an example of how the Internet of things is leveling out – in this case, the risks of this specific Twitter-related rhetoric. We are primed to show strong feelings about things we don’t feel very strongly. At the same time, we are conditioned to interpret other responses to low-risk content as high-risk, perhaps even threatening. We end up arguing about things we don’t feel strongly because we don’t remember that the other side of the argument is subject to many of the same forces. There is no real sense of proportion to any of them, and this absence makes us feel both more frustrating On the other person, too, we might lose him.
This dynamic is what makes me stop. Because intentional floodlights rarely land on innocuous, low-stakes stuff like a five-letter word game. There is nothing easier to ignore than Wordle and its fans, just as there should be nothing easier than enjoying a good game with like-minded people. And yet we’re here. It is worth asking the question: Have we created an Internet where it is impossible to enjoy something innocent with a larger community?