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Wordle: More than a Fad?

EMILY SCHUTZ, HOST : The online game Wordle was an overnight hit. Last November there were about 90 players. By early January, over 300,000 were playing every day.

REBEKAH ROBINSON, HOST: And the New York Times recently purchased the game from its developer, Josh Wardle. But as David Marques reports, for many, Wordle has become more than just a way to pass the time.

DAVE MARQUES, BYLINE: Video game crazes come and go – Tetris; Pac Man; Angry Birds. But Wordle may be uniquely suited for our pandemic era. Greg Steirer is a media studies professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, and studies online games.

He says that Wordle suits life during the pandemic, when people play mobile games at home instead while commuting to work.

GREG STEIRER People have been more wanting [sic] to play games that absorb their attention and aren’t just these little pieces of things that they build into their everyday activities. And I think that Wordle was a little bit like that, because though it’s super short, it’s a focused sort of gameplay for the five minutes that you’re playing.

MARQUES: And even though it's a solitary game, Steirer says Wordle’s can also connect members of a community. Fans have developed a French version called “le mot”. There’s a Chinese Wordle …“Pinyin Cai Chengyu,” where instead of a word, players have to guess a four-character idiom. And there’s Slovko, a Ukrainian language edition. Dianna Haryluk lives in Bellingham, Washington, but grew up speaking Ukrainian, and now she plays Slovko every day. She says it’s harder than the English original.

HAWRYLUK: Even as a native speaker, it’s a challenging board. Every typically Ukrainian word that I can think of is way more than five letters.

MARQUES: In addition to helping her keep sharp in her first language, Hawryluk says Slovko helps her stay in contact with the Ukrainian speakers in her life – something even more important during a difficult time for the country.

HAWRYLUK:: Between my mom, my sister, and my best friend, the three of us try to regularly keep up with it. We’re all in different locations. It’s kind of difficult to keep in touch. But having just this little, like, “Hey, how’d you do on today’s Slovko?” – it’s almost equivalent to, “Yo, I’m checking in on you, making sure everything’s still OK.”

MARQUES: The new owners of Wordle, The New York Times, haven’t commented yet whether they plan to put Wordle behind a paywall. But Steirer says it’s unlikely that Wordle will fizzle out anytime soon.

STEIRER: Copyright law does not traditionally protect against game concepts. So it’s very difficult to clamp down on a game. They’d have to do it around the title of the game, like if it’s too close to Wordle. It became very expensive to clamp down.

MARQUES: He says that even if “Wordle” ends up behind a paywall, the game will keep evolving to suit the interests of its players.

David Marques, Columbia Radio News


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