Why Wordle has us in a Chokehold

By Tessa Pang | Magazine | February 20, 2022

Cover Illustration: A conversation about Wordle with the game in the background. Marija Roganovic / The Amsterdammer

Magazine Reporter Tessa Pang posits that Wordle is popular for the same reason that TikTok is – it’s a rebellion against highly produced, highly commercial content. It’s a return back to the internet in its true purest form – regular users making content for other regular users. 

My first introduction to Wordle was through Twitter. Every morning I would wake up to a barrage of strange gray, gold and green shapes. They reminded me of those IQ tests you had to take in middle school that made you predict the next shape in the pattern. I threatened to block anyone on Twitter who posted their Wordle. However, being the Twitter nobody I am, of course, nobody obliged so I decided to jump on the bandwagon. A few weeks later, a few friends and I sat huddled around the dinner table – in complete silence – doing the latest Wordle. 

A game made with love

Part of understanding why this game went so viral, is understanding its inception – as an act of love. Josh Wardle, a software engineer from Brooklyn, NY, knew his partner loved to play word games so he created one – just for the two of them. After it gained popularity in their family group chat, he released it to the world in October 2021.

Wordle’s fame arc is comparable to TikTok trends. In October 2021, the game had 90 players, by December this number rose to 300,000 and by mid-January, that number had grown to over 2 million. It made headlines across the globe and flooded every Twitter feed and Instagram meme page. 

All things organic

Like TikTok, Wordle’s virality is based on people sharing their results and others hopping on the trend. It’s part of a pushback against highly-produced content manufactured by marketing and advertising agencies that produce stale and forced content. We, the internet people, no longer want to be told what to like and dislike by ‘experts’, we want those desires to be dictated by people in our own communities. People are placing a higher value on content that feels organic. Content created by people in your community, for your community. Viral content is often low-fi, hyper-relevant, and extremely relatable. That is exactly what Wordle delivers: low-fi content that you *know* your friends are obsessed with. 

A conversation about Wordle with the game in the background. Marija Roganovic / The Amsterdammer

Sweet and simple – just one word a day

On top of that, the game is pure and uncomplicated. It does not even own its own website domain. When you log onto powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle, you’re presented with a six-by-five set of small squares and a keyboard. There is only one word of the day and it’s the same for everyone around the world. There are no levels, no way to play more words per day. It’s a simple one-play concept which, in a beautiful way, is completely equalizing. 

At its core, Wordle is non-commercial. You don’t need a game console, to spend hours by the computer, or to even download an app. There’s no waiting for ads to load, no logging in, no attempt to harvest your data. Wordle’s recent acquisition by the New York Times may change some of those things, but they assure us the game will still remain free. This sits in stark contrast to the profit-driven gaming industry which last year, generated $180.3 billion in revenue.

A tool of community & connectedness

Finally, Wordle is more than just a game, it is about community. Juliet Landau-Pope, a social scientist, says it’s a rare moment of wholesome connectedness and “something fun to focus on, if only for a few moments of the day, (especially given) all the political discontent, economic uncertainty and ongoing health crises.” For me, Wordle feels reminiscent of a time when I would steal my mum’s phone to play Snake, when we would crowd around in a group watching one friend play Super Mario Bros. on their Nintendo 64 and when people would flock to parks in search of major PokeStops.

At a time when there seems to be a dearth of good things happening online, it gives me hope that the internet can be a place for good. 

Tessa Pang is a student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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