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The Many Mental Health Benefits of Playing Wordle

An Open Letter to The New York Times:

A few weeks ago, my Facebook feed was suddenly filled with meaningless yellow, gray and green boxes. Accompanying them was the word “Wordle,” along with cryptic numbers and comments of frustration and elation. Wordle posts soon became the rule and not the exception. And despite the fact that I always answered “fewer,” when Facebook asked me “Do you want to see more or fewer posts like this in your News Feed?,” the damn squares still kept coming!

I had flashbacks of the annoying requests to join Candy Crush in what I saw as a pointless timesuck. As my patience waned, I was compelled to ask if friends were getting paid to share on social media as the sudden onslaught was baffling. I declared a new hashtag of #ResistWordle and #ResistWordlePosting. This only made things worse because now, in addition to social media feed inundation, I inadvertently introduced Wordle to more friends (another one bites the dust), plus friends started texting me their squares and scores and I even got tagged in their Wordle social media posts!

I soon noticed that players included my brainiest of friends and I was fascinated by parents staying up past midnight to do the new Wordle (when it resets), or starting their day with it. Despite my modus operandi to never drink the proverbial kool aid, my curiosity got the better of me as I watched more and more “fall” to the lure of Wordle.

There was obviously no way I would “give in” and start with Wordle, so I went for one of its variants through the back door (a rude backdoor) and tried Lewdle. I was instantly drawn to Lewdle given its warning: “CONTENT ADVISORY: Lewdle is a game about rude words. If you’re likely to be offended by the use of profanity, vulgarity or obscenity, go play Wordle instead!”

Just like with Wordle, Lewdle players guess a random five-letter word and the boxes change color to indicate if the letter is not in the word (gray), if the letter is in the word, but in a different spot (yellow) or the letter is in the word and the right spot (green). Also like Wordle, players get up to six sequential guesses with the only time limit being midnight when it resets.

It was soon clear that I’m not as naughty as my husband or I think I am and, even with my added UK lexicon, it was super challenging to think of enough rude words. Lewdle won’t even let you cheat by using regular words in order to get letter clues. I finally managed to solve the rude word of five letters within five tries and although I felt triumphant given the struggle, I was admonished to “Think filthier next time!” My square score was given to me with the note: “Don’t be a $⋕*! and play the original Wordle too!” Tempting, but nope.

So I instead took my vulgarity down a notch and tried Sweardle, appropriately a four letter word puzzle, with just four chances to solve. This was definitely more my speed and I was delighted to feel so accomplished. “Congratulations, you potty month” was super validating.

By now, my interest was piqued and I gave the game-who-should-not-be-named a go. And as it’s clear that you, The New York Times, already know this with your “low seven figure purchase” of Wordle, I hereby fully admit — I. Was. Wrong.

On behalf of the millions of humans who now play every day – and for those who are still part of the Wordle resistance movement – please hear me out. It’s a special recipe that makes Wordle so worthwhile, compelling and something to be protected:

  • It’s finite. We binge watch an entire season – or series – in a day or get lost on social media for hours, but with Wordle you can only play once a day.

  • It’s not asking anything of us. No sales – it’s free and there are no ads, at all, anywhere. No data is captured – no email or text to sign up for.

  • Just a simple website. No need to register, no password, nor an app to download.

  • It engages our scattered brains. A unique chance for focus and to get lost in the flow.

  • Gives a healthy dopamine hit. Rather than relying on the vacuous number of likes, retweets or comments for the hit, we feel good when we get the word!

  • Joy. A rare feeling for many. Just the pure, unadulterated joy of play.

  • Most importantly, connection and community. No matter our politics or opinions on mask and vaccine mandates, we have been united in our challenge and triumph of those damn little boxes. Every single one of us, no matter our age, location or income have all had the exact same word to guess (unlike another spinoff Absurdle) and this has improved our well-being.

We are beyond exhausted in a world that feels increasingly divided and disconnected. Wordle, and most of its less dominant variants, give us something to share, a way to be connected in our family, with our friends and our communities. It is a bright spot in our day. More ubiquitous than baking pretzels and sourdough bread, we came out of our little silos of hell to interact, share and connect on guesses needed, our frustration and elation. It is a powerful and strengthening feeling to be in this equally, and all together.

This is a plea, for our nation’s mental health, please keep Wordle free and full of joy and connection. We desperately need it.

Yours truly, Wordle Playing Humans in America

About the Author

Vanessa Elias is a mental health activist, certified parent coach, speaker, and writer featured on NPR, PBS, and in the WSJ. She is the founder of Thrive with a Guide, LLC and serves as a group facilitator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Block Party USA is her passion project. Vanessa helps parents achieve healthier family relationships and lasting, meaningful connections.


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