H E A R T
I am talking, of course, about Wordle.
You don’t have to be a lexical genius to guess that Wordle is a word game. The rules, thought up by designer Josh Wardle, are simple: Figure out the word, with five letters and six tries. The game lets you know whether the characters you’ve entered are wrong entirely (by highlighting them in gray), right entirely (green), or right but in the wrong place (yellow).
Silly, maybe, but so what? Everyone is playing, it seems, and the obsession makes sense — not because the game is exceptional but because it’s exceptionally suited to the moment.
A lot of us are feeling A L O N E this season, even though the loneliness was supposed to end last spring. That variant after variant after variant insists on barging in to interrupt our return to normal engenders a sense of defeat — and exhaustion. About a year ago, “pandemic burnout” entered our vocabularies, and now we’ve stumbled upon the consummate burnout game.
Wordle asks little of you beyond typing in the URL that will take you to its bare-bones webpage. Obsessives of the New York Times Spelling Bee pangram puzzle may scoff. They wake up with the sun to play, doggedly spotting words they actually know and eventually pawing blindly at plausible permutations of the available letters, desperate for the interface to label them “Amazing!” or “Genius!” or, dare they even dream, “Queen Bee.”
That this can take hours is apparently a point of pride; that Wordle takes minutes is a point of pleasure. Yet you emerge all the same feeling you have done something, when the menu of things to do has truncated thanks to restaurant closures, or canceled flights, or a mismatch in risk tolerance among friends and family.
Let’s get one more thing straight: Wordle is easy. Forget the pun-soaked agony of the Sunday crossword. Forget even the minor frustration of the unusually difficult Friday — oh God, is there a rebus? A starting Wordle guess marked miss, miss, miss, miss, miss may seem to signal hope is lost. The good news is there are only so many letters in the alphabet. You can lose. Yet to do so requires an almost deliberate lack of thought, or a serious L A P S E of attention.
Certainly, you can win smarter and you can win dumber. (Hey, why would you guess “ALONE” when you already know the “E” and “A” in “HEART” are in the right place?) You can also win thanks to luck and luck alone. (“Wow!” someone will reply, awestruck and admiring, when you tweet out a near-immediate victory.)
Nonetheless, when you win you’ve won — and we could all stand to win now. What’s more, after two years of giving each other a depressing amount of medically mandated S P A C E, we could stand to win together.
This is really what makes Wordle perfect for a weary populace: We’re playing together, but we’re also playing alone. The game, engineered for the Internet age, lets you click to copy an emoji representation of your most recent round for sharing on Twitter or text or anywhere else the disconnected gather to connect. The ease doesn’t hurt, either. You’re hardly going to shout your failures from the rooftops, but in this case, you can shout your successes without getting labeled a braggart. You know everyone else probably succeeded, too.
There’s a catch, though: You only show others what you’ve accomplished on your own. You don’t accomplish anything with them. The game doesn’t even stack you up against the rest of the world with the win percentages it displays, but rather stacks you up against you.
Togetherness in solitude is what we’ve been after throughout this crisis — what we’re looking for in our video calls or group chats, our remote cookbook clubs and our viral debates over the latest miniseries or movie we watched, not because it looked good but because everyone else was watching.
Wordle allows us to win a bit of that togetherness every day. Which hopefully brings our lonely hearts a bit of P E A C E.