OK, so I was curious, and I played Wordle. And I have a theory about why it’s so successful. The design is ingenious in a very particular way This is a philosopher of games’ theory of Wordle. A thread:
The first experience a lot of people have of Wordle is: “wait, you just *guess*? But you quickly figure out you can construct your guesses to search the space of letter-possibility, and you probably want to do that thinking about letter-frequency.
So the early experience is one of *agency expansion*. Like, you thought you had almost no agency, but you have way more than you thought.
It’s a lot like limit poker. You at first think: I can do almost nothing, this is just random, I just get a random draw and all I can do is raise, check, or fold? And then you figure out how much you can do with that really narrow set of options – how much power you can have.
But the really neat stuff with Wordle is the social stuff. First, you probably first heard about Wordle when your friends posted these incomprehensible little box-chart graphics. You played it, and now you can totally read this graphics. Cool, now you’re in the know.
But the cleverest bit about Wordle is its social media presence. The best thing about Wordle is *the graphic design of the shareable Wordle chart.* There’s a huge amount of information – and drama – packed into that little graph.
Every game of Wordle is a particular little arc of decisions, attempts, and failures. But each little posted box is *a neat synopsis of somebody’s else’s arc of action, failure, choice, and success*.
You can just glance and see how they did, get the shape of how they tried, and see when they, say, got stuck for a while and suddenly made a bit of progress and SAW IT.
That’s the really special thing about Wordle, I think. I don’t know any other game that has nearly as graphically neat a synopsis, where you can just see the whole arc of another’s attempt so quickly.
That wonderful bit of communication – a little encoding of agency in graphical form – combined with the decision to just give everybody the same word a day, means we can share a struggle. And you can quickly grasp the shape of each others’ dramatic arc that day.
It’s such a sharp, crisp, quick window into another person’s agential experience. Wordle is a triumph of social graphic design.