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Wired for Wordle? Why this Web Game is So Addictive!

In a matter of weeks, the addictive web game Wordle has sparked the interest of millions around the globe, seeing a dramatic spike in users just months after its release in October 2021. 

The stats are phenomenal. The Guardian reports that from a modest total of 90 players a day in November 2021, the web game saw about 2 million by the end of January this year.

In other words, its popularity worldwide spread like wildfire. So we’re rather unfazed these days whenever someone says I need to play more Wordle in passing.

In fact, you yourself are likely to be one of those waiting around for the next puzzle, hoping to solve it for three tries at most before proclaiming yourself a Wordle wizard.

So like millions of others (us included), you’re baffled. What makes this recently developed web game so addictive?

Image credits to Canva

What in the World Wide Web is the Addictive Game Wordle?

Wordle is a word-based puzzle game you play directly on the web or your browser. Developed and launched by software engineer Josh Wardle — and yes, the game’s name is an offshoot of its maker’s — Wordle lets players guess the five-letter word of the day, which is the same for everybody, in six tries. 

Through color-coded feedback, players make educated guesses until they type in the correct word or have used up their sixth attempt. 

Initially, Wardle created the game for him and his partner Palak Shah, who developed a love for “the New York Times’ Spelling Bee and the daily crossword” over the pandemic, The New York Times reports. No other engineers were involved in the making, the same report notes. It was made solely for Wardle and Shah to enjoy.

But this romantic gesture would soon become a daily ritual for people around the world. The first sign of this happening? Tweets with cryptic squares swarming Twitter feeds. 

Before the game automatically assembled Wordle results in emojis, a New Zealand user was manually inputting her Wordle results in her tweets, TechCrunch reports in their interview with Wardle. After this discovery, Wardle decided to code the shareable and now-ubiquitous Wordle format into the game.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

If you told someone in early pandemic years that, besides Fall Guys and Among Us, there’d be another hit game made up of square emojis and a color palette of three shades taking the internet by storm, they’d think you’re bananas.

But the rapidly growing user base of Wordle would beg to disagree. What they can’t tell you, though, is why they’re so hooked. So we’re going to try to figure that out right now.

We’ve culled three different insights from the web by experts in different fields. They believe Wordle either engages certain parts of our brains, hardwiring us for addiction, or satisfies our need for socialization and community.

What Experts Say Happens to Our Brains on Wordle

  • Dr. Matthew Baldwin: In an interview with Ira Flatow for the talk show Science Friday, Dr. Matthew Baldwin, assistant professor in psychology at the University of Florida, says there are two things possibly contributing to our daily Wordle craving. First is our shared experience and second is the feeling of challenge and reward we gain from playing the web game. He links the shared experience component to our “grasping for some kind of social cohesion” during the pandemic.
  • Juliet Landau-Pope: Productivity coach Juliet Landau-Pope ascribes our inclination for Wordle to the “sense of community” it brings to our lives, engendering that feeling of connectedness we seek in a pandemic-stricken time. She also called the addictive web game a “smart product” as Wordle allows players to “waste” only a few minutes daily.
  • Lee Chambers: For British psychologist Lee Chambers, what makes Wordle intriguing lies in the areas of our brains that are at work when we play it. In an interview with Insider, he says Wordle stimulates “both the language- and logic-processing areas of our brains”. But as with any game, Wordle is likely to release dopamine, the feel-good chemical we get when we expect a reward. He adds the game’s shareability played a great part in — and is key to — its popularity. “Constantly seeing the squares in our Twitter feed indicates that there is something to be solved, and others are on the case,” he told Insider.

All these insights contribute to the many reasons why people continue to play Wordle. And it’s safe to say our motivations for coming back to it vary. But it’s equally possible we do so for all the factors mentioned above and more.

However, Josh Wardle has a slightly different take on why his game reached this level of fame.

Image credits to Canva

What the Maker of Wordle Has to Say About the Addictive Quality of His Web Game

Going back to Wardle’s interview with The New York Times, we see him mention the component that makes Spelling Bee — a game he drew inspiration from for Wordle — addictive.

According to the report, Wardle chalks it up to a “sense of scarcity”, among others. He claims people want more simply because there isn’t enough in a day.

This begs the question for infinite Wordle spinoffs like Wordle Unlimited — are they not as addictive as the original?

The answer may depend on the metrics you use. Whose opinion do you think closely describes why you’re into Wordle? Is it because it helps you feel a sense of community? Do you do it for the challenge? For the reward? Or all of the above?

Several or all of these factors are likely motivations for millions to continue playing Wordle. All of them are plausible in varying degrees to different players. So it ultimately boils down to the personal and unique reason why you play it.

But also, Wordle’s shareability on Twitter and social media could have a hand in its ongoing success. After all, virality goes a long way.

In Summary

Millions of players around the globe are addicted to Wordle. And many have also wondered why they can’t seem to get enough of it.

According to three psychologists, these are the possible reasons why the web game Wordle is so addictive:

  • Dr. Matthew Baldwin: allows us to have a shared experience during the pandemic
  • Juliet Landau-Pope: brings a sense of connectedness into our lives
  • Lee Chambers: activates certain areas in our brain that make the web game appealing

But no matter the reason behind why our brains are hooked on it, we can all agree it’s a pretty good game. So, why do you think you’re addicted to Wordle?

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