Friends don’t let friends play Words with Friends (It’s addictive)

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 2, 2011

It’s not like I didn’t grow up playing board games. Scrabble, Monopoly, Parcheesi, Battleship, Mastermind, Numble, RSVP, Risk, Stratego, Trouble, Connect Four, Facts in Five. My mother — and sole opponent — was also my personal trainer in the formative crossword years.Any real instinct to play, however, has long been dormant — that is, until a couple of weeks ago when a nice-guy walk-in at work took it upon himself to install Words with Friends on my phone. “Here’s my handle,” he said, scribbling Whip______ on a scrap of paper. “You’ll love it.”
Love? I don’t know. I know I can’t stop. I know I can’t get enough. Is this love?
In fact, I am currently playing WWF — in between sentences — and doing it in the hip, multi-tasking, aggravatingly non-present manner in which things are done nowadays. I’ve fallen in, an infantry soldier in the trench war of letters. I have 12 games going, actually. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything since it takes some people an entire day to make a move, or two days or even a week, which is why there are so many posts on the WWF Facebook page seeking that rarest of games: one played in its entirety. Can you imagine? Most of us don’t have time for that. We sneak in moves, trying to appear functional in our everyday lives.

Here in the virtual cloud of around 2.5 million players, posting screenshots of brilliant moves, spending hours staring down at their 2 x 3 inch screens, I am on the warpath with someone named Roy____ whom I cannot beat. He has just scored a modest (to him) 44 points with an s on my ziti and gees on the vertical axis. I have two a’s two d’s, an i and o and a u. I’m tempted to stall him in the chat bubble because, despite my knowing that things can seesaw at any time, even upend, I feel panic welling up — like, if I lose this game, my mojo will shrivel irreversibly. Am I that weak, down deep?

Who are you, Roy? I want to say, picturing him in the deep south, hunched at an old wooden desk, hound at his side, sunflower seeds and a glass of cold water the only things feeding his killer — and yet oh-so-casual — instinct. There’s a spittoon in the room. Haze. He is such a conundrum! Someone who plays the word “loves” after I tell him I feel like his pawn (it’s true, but, OK, also strategic). He tells me he’s sure I’ve beaten him before, using the word “u” for “you,” which rattles me. >From a wordsmith? Roy, who ARE you?

Meanwhile, I cannot come up with a word with my a-i-u-a-o-d-d. And since I don’t use the Words Cheat app, to which only the most morally rank would stoop, I’m left wondering about things like probabilities. How come he always wins? Chances are, he gets letters as bad as mine and just as frequently. Is it his will, then? Confidence? Or is he just better in every way?

In Words, you can make more points than you ever dreamed possible in the frowsy world of Scrabble, an old-fashioned game which asks you to have a vocabulary, be intelligent, clever and well read. Words has more triple and double word and letter squares, scattered over the board like candy. Someone, not Roy, scored 99 points on me yesterday and then actually used “OMG” in the chat bubble. Who are YOU, little girl? I thought. I know you don’t have board games in the resume of your brief career as a human being, and yet you dust me completely with one lucky word and then “Haha” me in the bubble.

What can I say — I’m new to this. I don’t entirely get gorging on scores. Of course, I tell my friends that what I am actually doing here is more important than trying to win, that I am engaged in a giant gestalt of left-brain massage, contributing to the language weather of the world. A total lie. I’m becoming a pointsmith.

I try all sorts of words on the Roy board, because you can try all you want in WWF, which feels dirty because it is. I stare down at the tiny grid on my phone, neck stiff, seeing an ugly, under-15 point play. I hit Send with “dodo” and “ad,” and then slump. Eleven points and three more vowels. Staring at the board, lack of distance strangulates me until I notice all of a sudden that “ziti” and “mob” and “hit” are all on the same board. I smile, and examine further. Did I play “winks” or did he? Who played “bites”? He plays “gleam” for a mere 22 and I relax, loosen the kinks in the my neck, and hit the shuffle key.

Because … it’s really not over ‘til it’s over.

4 Replies to “Friends don’t let friends play Words with Friends (It’s addictive)”

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