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The cult of Words with Friends

I see them in elevators, on train platforms, waiting in lines. Strangers—always men—intently focused, dragging their fingers in a particular pattern over the screens of their phones. I can always spot them because I am one of them.

I am addicted to a game called Words With Friends.

Words With Friends is a mobile app that lets you challenge anyone else to a suspiciously Scrabble-like word game. The game is free version if you’re willing to put up with short ads between plays.

It’s a shallow game, but so what? Scrabble is fun, and gets better when you make a few changes to the format.

  • There’s no pressure to be fast. You can make a play any time.
  • There are only 2 players per game. Either you get the J or the other guy does.
  • You can play it anywhere.
  • You can have multiple games going at once.

The competition is fierce and serious, but friendly. And there’s a feeling of passive communication about this game that makes it satisfying. Sending a play is like saying “Hey man” to a dude you might not have any other reason to connect with.

The game spreads from friend to friend, as we introduce it to each other. Techcrunch once traced the popularity explosion of Words With Friends to October 5, 2009, when John Mayer endorsed it on this Twitter feed. The game was developed by a company called Newtoy, which was acquired late last year by Zynga, the large publisher of Farmville and other Facebook games. It spawned a small solar system of rip-off apps, including cheat programs that figure out the best moves for you.

Even as I play Words With Friends—and I play several times a day, sometimes several times an hour—I’m wary that it could disappear. Back in the mid 2000s, a Scrabble knock-off called Scrabulous was the most popular game on Facebook. I had a few friends I would play against every day. It became part of my morning routine: Coffee, cereal, Scrabulous.

One day in 2008, Scrabulous abruptly vanished, falling victim to an escalating series of intellectual property claims. That was a bummer. But we all went on with our lives. Scrabulous turned out to be an easy habit to break.

Words With Friends is a fad. It’s extremely popular and time-consuming without actually being important. It signifies nothing. This gift arrived, we don’t need to know much about it, and we’ll play it until we’re sick of it or someone takes it away.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Language, Words


  1. jules Smith says:

    Also an absolute WWF addict – I hope it doesn’t disappear for I cannot remember life before it….

  2. Deb says:

    My WWF userID is day1979. #justsayin 🙂

  3. Red Stapler says:

    My WWF ID is jvfriedman. #alsojustsayin…

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