The Puzzling Popularity of Wordle


These days, it is not uncommon to glance at someone’s screen and find that they’re trying to figure out the daily Wordle. The craze for Wordle has become more and more widespread over the course of the past year, especially since the end of January when the game was bought by The New York Times. This might be a hot take, but I don’t really understand what makes Wordle so special, though I do have some ideas about the general appeal of this style of game. 

Created by Josh Wardle — yes, Wardle — Wordle is a guessing game in which players have six tries to guess a five-letter word that is different every day. Wardle released the game in October of 2021, and now millions of people play on a daily basis. The game has become a cultural phenomenon subject to frequent discussion on social media, in family group chats and during everyday conversations. There is even a wide range of Wordle spin-offs that focus on words related to specific topics. For example, as the names suggest, Lordle of the Rings and Swordle are for words based on “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars,” respectively. Meanwhile, for Taylordle and Wordle-BTS, you’ll want to guess words that are related to Taylor Swift and BTS in some capacity. Lewdle only includes lewd or profane words, while Queerdle revolves around words related to the LGBTQIA+ community. In addition to these topic-specific spin-offs, there is also Quordle, which takes Wordle to the next level by giving players nine guesses to solve four words.

Personally, I look at Wordle the same way that I look at other word games like crosswords or word searches: A temporary solution to boredom and a way to activate my brain if I have an awkward amount of time in between classes or if I’m sitting in the car during a long drive with nothing to do. However, many of my friends can’t start their days without completing the Wordle. They treat the Wordle as a competition not only with themselves for personal bests, but also with one another; the number of guesses and the amount of time it takes them each day are some of the measurements they use for comparing Wordle skill level. And God forbid someone spoils the word of the day … that is considered a grave offense. For example, in order to avoid accidentally committing such an egregious act, one of my best friends, who is an avid Wordle fan, recently made the point of asking the person sitting behind us in class whether they had already completed the day’s Wordle and if they were okay with potentially getting a glimpse of the Wordle attempts on her screen.

I don’t think there is anything about Wordle that is particularly profound, and for me, it doesn’t seem to inspire competitive energy in the way it does for others. However, I can understand the merits of incorporating the Wordle into your daily schedule as a matter of routine. The idea of being able to look forward to the moments of joy that accompany completing the Wordle every day is comforting, especially since we’ve recently been living through some major historical events and every day seems to bring new sources of stress. Playing Wordle also does not require a significant time commitment like other, more intricate word games might, so it does not require sacrificing any part of your routine. Wordle is something simple that can be controlled and involves an element of predictability that often cannot be found in other aspects of our lives. 

In addition, the Wordle can bring players a sense of accomplishment, and perhaps even motivation, to continue on with your day even if it feels like nothing else is going right. Sharing your Wordle results on social media or with friends produces the momentary ego boost that we all need sometimes, and even though it’s not a genuine marker of intellect, proof of successfully completing the Wordle does allow players to feel smart — or at least, smarter than other people who needed more guesses that day. Psychology Today even went so far as to suggest that the popularity of Wordle is “not about sharing intellectual experiences; it is about trying to feel superior to others.” 

Lastly, in the same way that it feels nice to connect with people who are watching the same TV show or reading the same book as you, there is a sort of community or collective understanding among people who Wordle. And I have to say, as someone who doesn’t regularly partake as of now, there is an incentive to start incorporating the Wordle into my routine, if only for the sake of being included in conversations about it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I imagine this is one of the reasons why Wordle has gone viral on social media — no one wants to feel as though they are left out or lacking in important cultural knowledge. Strangely, I think this game can tell us a lot about some of the things we value as a society and as individuals, especially here in the United States. In that sense, it’s not only worth exploring why Wordle has become so popular, but also what is required for a cultural product to stick around as more than just a trend.