Wordle Is A Gentle Reminder Of The Wholesome Good The Internet Is Capable Of
Wordle is the best and most pure parts of the internet distilled into one wholesome game.
It is interesting to remember that, not even a particularly long time ago, the internet was viewed as an opportunity to increase collaboration, closeness, creativity, and communication, rather than being the cesspit of division that the actual online experience now represents.
The early days of the net seemed to beckon forth an era in which we would understand each other better; in which new and diverse viewpoints could be sought out, expanding our understanding of what was possible.
That promise manifested itself in a number of distinct ways, from the wholesome joys of early message boards, opportunities for those with niche interests to reach out into the ether and find something of themselves reflected in the other, to the bizarre joy of the first YouTube videos: short, grainy clips of ordinary people, getting down to the quiet business of explaining their lives.
There was no grift because there was no opportunity to become a millionaire; no advantage to deceit. Nothing was staged or insincere, because what would be the point of that? The concept of the “internet persona” is a surprisingly modern invention — for a brief, shining moment, people took to the digital realm as themselves, for themselves
Then, of course, with a kind of shuddering inevitability, the algorithm took over. The advent of “going viral” meant that there was suddenly a material benefit for social media users to spread their message, whatever it may be. Clicks and retweets could be transformed into job opportunities; into fame; into wealth. And so quickly, the prime directive became getting the biggest audience possible, sincerity and honesty be damned.
This new way of engaging online has become so widespread and ingrained that it doesn’t even seem noticeable. It is like water to the fish; a kind of background condition, to be accepted unthinkingly, rather than analysed. We all expect that we’re being lied to online; all enter the digital realm ready to be tricked, conned, and manipulated. And then when we discover we have been, we do not respond with shock, but weary resignation.
For a brief, shining moment, people took to the digital realm as themselves, for themselves.
It takes the strangest of things — in this case, the new puzzle game Wordle — to draw our attention to what has been there all along. In that way, Wordle feels like a callback to an earlier era, a reminder of the way things could have gone, had we not been forced into accepting a hellscape of falsehoods and meta-levels within levels.
Wordle hasn’t been monetised. It is a viral sensation that exists outside the normal capitalistic framework of the online world. It doesn’t shriek at you with banner ads when you enter the site. Nothing about it seemed designed to go viral — indeed, its creator made the game for the enjoyment of his wife, and has since expressed shock at its sudden and widespread recognition. It’s not trying to trick you, or grift you. The way that it spreads online — a series of simple coloured blocks, posted on Twitter — is uniquely resistant to the usual channels of virality. It doesn’t demand anything of you, or try to turn a familiar experience into a meme to be shared as a way of reinforcing an identity. It is a light, pleasing and defiantly simple diversion.
And out of that simplicity has been spawned the full gamut of human experience. It is precisely Wordle’s unassuming nature that it allows it to be turned into whatever its users desire. People build their own Wordle metagames; construct their own new challenges; ask each other about their individual starting words. In an online space that de-emphasizes the sharing of experience, Wordle actively encourages people to talk to each other; to ask, in so many words, “this is what this game is like for me. What is it for you?”
pivoting to wordle memes pic.twitter.com/ig0MJIEd5o
— angeline rodriguez (@gelrdrgz) January 13, 2022
Perhaps it feels ridiculous to build something so profound out of a glorified version of hangman. But Wordle is only so worthy of attention, so utterly deserving of praise, because it is the deviation from the norm. To think — it all could have been like this.
Of course, no-one ever fully escapes capitalism. There have already been a multitude of Wordle copycats, posted to the app store, designed to try and turn a profit on something that was never designed for that purpose. But these cheap facsimiles of the original only prove its singularity. Against the odds, there exists right now, on the internet, a tiny oasis of independence, and originality, which wants nothing more than you to type in a few five letter words, once a day. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Joseph Earp is a Wordle fanatic and Staff Writer at Junkee. He tweets @JosephOEarp.