By Fiona Wallace
Wordle is the newest internet craze taking the millennial world by storm. The five-letter daily word guessing game is infiltrating people’s morning routines, everyday conversations and social media accounts, and has even saved an 80-year-old woman’s life. Wordle is undoubtedly a force for good in a time when the world seems like it’s erupting in chaos.
I was first introduced to the phenomenon of Wordle in a Facebook Messenger group at the beginning of the year. My friends were abuzz with a tentative kind of energy: ‘Have you played it yet?’, ‘I’m obsessed’, ‘If you like word games, google Wordle’. As a lover of words, I was already invested based on the name, and opening the website invited me into a world of what was surprisingly familiar. I had never played the game, yet I knew it. And every day I still continue to come back for more.
Created by Josh Wardle for his logophilic partner, the free web-based game gives players six chances to guess a five-letter target. After each attempt, the letter tiles update with colour coding for how near the player is to the target word. Each day a new word is randomly generated for all those connecting to the website.
Wordle was released in November 2021 where it had a user base of ninety players. By late January, this number had risen to two million. It was at this time that Wardle sold Wordle to The New York Times for a sum in the ‘low seven figures’. Since then, the word game has continued to grow in popularity (something that the logo team at Google has clued into), where millennials are the largest demographic cohort driving interest and engagement.
Being born on the other side of the century, I grew up alongside the rise of the internet. Dial-up tones were the sound of my introduction to technology, where I waited for CDs to finish burning and fought my siblings to have a turn at Snake. The internet used to be about continuing mundane conversations with your immediate circle, playing games, creating WordArt, and stumbling upon funny videos. Then, we got better at it. Nowadays millennials use the web out of a sense of duty to society, the workforce and the economy—internet proficiency equates to cultural capital. We have instant streaming, multiple email accounts and constant connection with a global wealth of information. With these colossal changes that we’ve encountered, there comes an ever-pressing sense of uncertainty. Rapid development is imminent, as it always has been for millennials.
Added to this pressure to continually evolve with the internet, millennials are expected to be making milestones with their careers, families and social groups whilst battling against accelerating debt and rising inflation. Beyond the personal, the world in 2022 is facing fire, flood, fighting, famine and infection. It’s a trialling time to say the least. Since anxiety first became recognised as a condition in the 1980s, it is millennials who have been found to be the most anxious generation.
From the midst of the seemingly interminable gloom, Wordle has risen. Wardle likens his game to eating a croissant: ‘Enjoyed occasionally they are a delightful snack. Enjoyed too often and they lose their charm. My explicit goal was to have Wordle fall more in the “delightful snack” category.’ And that’s just what Wordle brought to my table. The reprieve from the stressors of life I craved was fulfilled, and for a moment, I was no longer hungry.
Like a plain croissant, simple:
Wordle is simply, simple. Targets are five letters. You have six attempts to guess the word. There are three colour codes to learn: a right letter in the right place is green; a right letter in the wrong place is yellow; a wrong letter is grey. It’s easy to win, which is why my win percentage continues to remain in the 90s.
Stimulating the mind’s palate:
Players have to access their mental lexicon and utilise linguistic probability skills to determine the word of the day. Whilst this aspect of what goes on in people’s heads goes over most of them, it’s what excites me most as an individual who’s spent over a good third of their life obsessing about words. There are strategies to learn to improve your performance such as considering high-frequency letters, digraphs and letter-sound correspondences as well as capitalising on your orthographic processing skills.
It’s nice to share:
After playing Wordle for the day, players have the opportunity to share their results with friends without revealing the answer. This no-spoiler function on the game allows for friendly competition between players and stimulates conversations about words. Facebook Messenger is particularly rife with Wordle conversations: whether the acquisition by The New York Times ruined Wordle (it didn’t, by the way); the word ‘humor’ causing Australian players to take umbrage; and harmless gloating when a tricky word like ‘tacit’ is guessed in only three attempts.
A bite of nostalgia:
This word guessing game brings me back to my childhood. Growing up in Woop Woop, our connection to the internet was shoddy at the best of times. So, I often sought fun through playing boardgames and decoding newspaper puzzles—when I was indoors that is. Wordle is like a marriage between Mastermind and Codebreakers; games that I readily devoured in my childhood.
You’ll keep coming back for seconds:
Every day there is a new word instalment, compelling players to open the website regularly to keep abreast of the game. Furthermore, Wordle has a statistics feature which provides players with their win streak and guess distribution—and keeps them coming back so they can improve their score. My current best streak is playing the game 13 days in a row.
Free, unlike your overpriced coffee order:
Wordle remains free-to-play for users, and this has been a promise maintained by Wardle and The New York Times (for now). In an age of rising debt and inflation with a housing crisis to boot, adults are facing increasing financial stressors. The costless aspect of Wordle is enticing to users, and it brings players back to a time when the internet was an enjoyable place that wasn’t clogged up by financially motivated advertisements.
Wordle really is a delightful snack in a world that feels stifling for millennials. When personal and professional pressures are compounded by a potential world war and endless lockdowns, a coffee-break activity that brings you out of your head is welcomed with joy. This simple and fun game reminds millennials of what the internet was like for them when it first began. It’s a wholesome snack in green and yellow–coloured tiles. Naturally, something built from love can only have a positive effect on the world.
Fiona Wallace is currently undertaking a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne. She works as a speech pathologist and freelance copywriter, and also volunteers as an editor for a non-profit organisation. Fiona originally hails from a small country town in Western Australia with tin horses, a huge waterslide and no traffic lights. You can check out her website here which marries her two loves in life: editing and feminism.
Photo by Nils Huenerfuerst, via Unsplash. Used with permission.