Is NYT's Acquiring Wordle the End of an Era?
I found out about Wordle on a hacker website back in December where, entirely without fanfare, someone posted a link to a new word game. It was free. The UI was basic. The instructions were simple but austere. I played it, found it tricky, but manageable, and immediately shared it with my girlfriend. Then I shared it with my stepmom. A few days later my gf shared the first of her wins, and her and I have been going back and forth ever since. Leading to the realization that I, a writer, am for some reason less good at word games.
This style of web experience, one that feels intimate, peer-to-peer, and on the periphery of big tech is very much alive. If you can find it. Like anything worth your time, the goods are usually a few pages deep in the Search. Even the game's web address is still just a tag at the end of the dev's homepage: https://www.powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle/
Good Vibe Feelies
There's something about playing Wordle that just feels good. Yes, the UI is distraction-free and opening Wordle feels like you're stepping into the "old web." But, there's something else going on. Something having to do with being a part of a bottom-up cultural experience.
It may be subtle and in the background, but when I play Wordle, I feel like the world is working, if only for a few minutes. Even when I'm scratching my head, frustrated that there's no way I'm gonna get the answer in six tries, when I do, I feel a part of a community going through the same experience. Again, it's subtle, but it's there.
Unfortunately, this may all be coming to an end.
The recent acquisition of Wordle by the NYT for a sum in the low six figs has the potential to turn a community oriented experience into yet another form of corporate monetization. That's a bummer, and my younger self wants to be angry about it. But, for some reason I'm not. There's something more immediate that's got my attention.
The NYT scooping up Wordle gives players an opportunity to see if our collective experience remains when a mega-commercial entity buys a non-commercial, peer-to-peer word-game. Will it still feel like old web, or will it be yet another paywalled, corporate Web2.0 meh-fest?
"We Live By Night"
Transitions from underground to mainstream can be hard to recognize until it's too late. If you're not paying attention, corporations can co-opt non-corporate memes, symbols, and entire subcultures. Sometimes overnight. Sometimes at an imperceivable crawl. One day you're playing banjo at Sunny's. The next day "clap-stomp-hey" is on every radio station in the country, and just like that you're behind the times. Giggled at by the same girls who once thought you were edgy and cute.
So, pay attention. If you've been playing Wordle these past few months, take stock of how you feel when you play it. Do you look forward to it? Do you talk about it with your partner? Is it a nice 5-minute break to your day?
Then, when it eventually gets re-released by the NYT, see if you feel a shift. See if you find yourself not playing as much, missing days, sharing less. Track these experiences. This is how we go from intellectually "knowing" that corporate takeovers of culture are almost always bad, to _really_ knowing. Knowing it in our body. Knowing it firsthand. Knowing it as a felt experience. We may intellectually _believe_ that the mainstream is a culture killer. But, with Wordle being acquired by the NYT, we have a rare opportunity to experience it firsthand.