Following tumultuous affairs with games like Candy Crush, the internet has a new time-killing pastime. It’s called Wordle, and ideas are beginning to emerge about why it’s proving to be such an addictive diversion with 2 million players (and counting).
Winning Wordle isn't complicated: It's a simple word game in which players are tasked with guessing a five-letter word. If you type “bikes,” for example, Wordle will let you know which letters are in the correct word by turning the boxes green; yellow means the letters are in the word, but not in the right position; gray letters aren’t present at all. It’s Wheel of Fortune meets a crossword puzzle.
According to University of Utah professor Thi Nguyen, Wordle is taking off because of how easy it is to share your achievements on social media. (Naturally, Nguyen shared his thoughts on a Twitter thread.) Because you have six tries to guess the daily word—which is the same for everyone playing—you can rate yourself against others. And you can do it without spoiling the answer by sharing the color-coded grid. Guess the word in fewer tries and you have some online caché.
“I don't know any other game that has nearly as graphically neat a synopsis, where you can just see the whole arc of another's attempt so quickly,” Nguyen wrote.
Tweeted brags are just one component. These types of games with a clear reward stimulate the release of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical, and are also relatively low-tech. As a browser-based game, users aren’t being sold anything, asked to buy something to enrich the playing experience, or having their data harvested for future spam attacks. It’s just a simple language puzzle that can only be played once daily—unless you go ferreting for past puzzles.
Wordle was created by software engineer Josh Wardle in late 2021, first as a simple game for his partner and later for his family and friends in a WhatsApp group. What's next for Wardle and Wordle and whether it can be monetized into a gaming behemoth is anyone's guess.