Why is Wordle no longer fun?

They ruined our silly little word game.

by Shivani Dubey
21 February 2022, 8:00am

If you’ve been on Twitter recently, you must have noticed almost everyone on the app posting different sets of yellow, green and black boxes daily. Such is the magic of the very simple daily word game, Wordle. The premise is pretty straightforward – you get six tries to guess a five letter word, with a new word dropping each day. And everyone in the world gets the same word. It’s the sheer simplicity and uncomplicated-ness of it that has taken social media by storm.

What’s more, the origin story of Wordle is just as wholesome. It was created by Josh Wardle, a software engineer in Brooklyn, New York, for his partner who loved playing word games. Then he released it into the world, and three months later, the game had become the obsession of hundreds of thousands of people. It’s become so popular that people have started creating Wordle leagues in their workplaces and families, competing with one another and comparing scores.

There’s a reason Wordle grew in popularity so quickly. According to David Baur-Ray, an expert in the psychology of user experiences, games like Wordle triggers our brain’s dopamine receptors. “Our brain loops that chemical in repeated touch points that get a player more attracted to the game,” he explains. “This psychological pattern is often found in mobile games.”

Being congratulated everyday for being able to guess simple, everyday words has a sizeable psychological impact on people. “Typically the game starts out with easy levels of success, which reward the player with small dopamine reactions frequently and often to get the player hooked,” David adds. “You start to feel really good about these wins and small successes and so you keep playing more often.”

Over time, Wordle became so popular that it even managed to catch the attention of the New York Times, lover of both word games and paywalls. So when it was announced that they were buying Wordle, people online were furious, especially after the Times revealed that the game would “initially” remain free for new and existing players.

Once Wordle made its switch to the Times, a plethora of problems arose, most significantly that the words for us to guess became significantly harder. ‘Cynic’, ‘caulk’, and ‘shake’ have traumatised us all in recent days — making that hit of dopamine harder to retrieve. “I definitely haven't enjoyed it since the NYT acquisition,” Sofie Tooke, a content and PR Manager in England says. “The difficulty level has definitely been annoying me - I don't get as excited to play anymore because I just get frustrated and find myself googling a clue. I'm not getting the happy little buzz I'd get from working out the answer like before.”

“It takes the fun away for me,” another former Wordle fan concurs. “I’m not very competitive, I just liked the completion of it. Pre-acquisition, I used to get it in 3-4 guesses. I don’t want to struggle at it. So I’m thinking of giving up just because life is hard and this used to be a way of some light relief.”

Most of us liked playing Wordle to get some joy out of being able to guess a silly little word. It gave us a sense of accomplishment. One of the main selling points of Wordle is that it was conquerable, which in turn helped people feel like some things in the world were actually able to be solved. And with the Times putting their spin on things, that same joy has now been sucked out of the game.

The psychologist Lee Chambers says that the increased difficulty of the game “has created a benchmark for certain individuals and groups about how many guesses is seen as a success.” That fewer are meeting it causes us all frustration.

Wordle managed to create a sense of community online. And in what could be considered a miracle in the world of social media, it’s a global understanding that spoilers are a no go. Everyone has undertaken the social responsibility of not ruining the game for anyone, whether they know them or not.

According to Lee, this has a lot to do with the feeling of community and harmony. “Because Wordle [culture] is intertwined with Twitter… there is a feeling from many players [that they should solve the word] in unison.” To spoil it at such a “turbulent and polarising time”, Lee adds, “would break that harmony.”

There is no denying that Wordle has had a major social and psychological impact. For those who were there at the beginning, there is an inevitable sense of protectiveness over the original game. Back when it was just a game made by a man for his wife.

“The original version of Wordle had no commerciality, no big budget, no fancy app and felt like the game of the people,” Lee says, “But as soon as it became an asset to be invested in, that little share that everyone had has been bought out, and that feeling of ownership over those little squares is different now that they are owned by the same economy the game once stood against.”

But then again, it probably isn't that deep. It is just a silly little word game after all.