I tried Wordle. Finally. I was bad at it. Six tries to guess the word and three were completely wrong. Like not one letter. So I X’d out. I had been told it was entirely based on luck—bullshit. My mom, a retired doctor, had a strategy. She used up all the vowels first and the consonants inevitably followed. She regularly guessed faster than the guy who had tricked me into trying it. He is 33, she is 74. This is not about age, it is about method; it is about follow through. My mom reads every night. She has been doing that for the past, oh, I don’t know, 900 years? That is 900 years of vocabulary. She’s also got good recall—as a doctor you need that. She told me about her Wordle system, and I said, “All that brain power for what?” And she laughed. Not funny. I hate reading because it’s so hard for me to do. I read all day every day and I hate it. What a life. And my recall sucks. I can’t remember anything. All of these things make me feel incredibly stupid on a regular basis. And they are why I hate puzzles. Games. I have always hated games. And all there are, are games everywhere. We’re a dumb culture of dumb games. And it makes me feel like an idiot every single day.
The guy who tricked me into doing Wordle, a guy who knows me well, thinks I hate games for two reasons: I am impatient, and I am competitive. He references that time a few months ago when we “played” Mario Kart. I used to be pretty good at Mario Kart. In 1996. Then he turned on some new shit I did not recognize, and I was absolutely appalling at it. So I swore and threw my controller across the room (age: 41). Then he turned on Mario Kart from 1996 and I stopped tantruming. This is why I tend to avoid games—I turn into a child. Because CHILDREN play games. My mom recalls that when I was around six a friend of hers had a fit because I was cheating at Monopoly. Why was I playing Monopoly at six? And why have I turned into that friend who had a fit? Apparently, she got up in a huff and left. That would never happen to me. I only get into huffs with opponents my age. I am not stupid enough to play anything with a child. I would definitely lose. Even if they weren’t cheating.
I get the impatience from my mom—who is also solution based, which offsets the impatience when she does Wordle—and the competitiveness from my dad. My dad is a famously sore loser. If you haven’t lived with a sore loser, you don’t know what a drag they are. It’s such a pain in the ass that you tend to avoid doing anything competitive with them, and if you must, you are definitely tempted to let them have the entire thing just to avoid the fallout. My uncle (who was married to my mom’s sister) is like 10 years or so younger than my dad and early on into their relationship they played a “leisurely” game of squash. My uncle played squash all the time. My dad didn’t. But he absolutely demolished my uncle. When they were walking off the court, sweating, exhausted, my uncle expressed shock at the results. And my dad, without a hint of irony, said, “You didn’t want it as much as me.” How awful is that?
I would never want to do a psychological assessment of why I hate games (I have too many other pressing psych concerns—hah). I know some version of the answer anyway. I know that I always felt like the idiot in the family. That even with family friends, when all of us were kids and would play Trivial Pursuit, I felt like the idiot—the one who could do the Hollywood shit, but nothing else. The one who could remember nothing about science or math or history—the moron. All those people I played with, including my brother, became professors. I became a journalist. A journalist in a world that doesn’t care about journalists—moron. Even though I was bad at games, I was OK at sports, but my brother was better. And I am OK at journalism, but so many others are better. Imagine being competitive and literally never winning? I would never want to do a psychological assessment of why I hate games because it’s obvious: I hate games because I am an ontological loser.
My friend says Wordle took off because of how low stakes it is—it’s casual, once a day, a hermetically sealed blip of ease (well, for some people). It’s not demanding, it’s not overly addictive (it’s too limited to be), and everyone can do it together. Oh, and with that block of little colored squares, the results look cute on social media. The whole thing is cute: a software engineer named Josh Wardle—Wardle, Wordle—invented it for his partner, because of course he did. And since no good piece of tech—especially one that can activate the compulsive centers of so many brains—ever goes under-appreciated, Wardle almost immediately sold his game to The New York Times for a seven-figure sum. Maybe games and the data, and the structures, and the numbers that underlie them would sit better with me if I didn’t already feel like everything else is made up of the same things.
I went into the arts to get away from this stuff. But it’s everywhere. Art is now structured like games are structured. What is fandom but a bunch of players trying to win a never ending game of Trivial Pursuit? It’s all trivia now, details. It’s all collecting, aggregating, and optimizing. No spoilers! Here are the Top 10 most bingeable shows currently on all streaming platforms! The latest Netflix movie was viewed for 270 million combined hours, somehow.
The art is beside the point. It’s the quantity, and the compulsion, that counts. And the industry around this, all the recapping, overanalyzing, and quibbling, this is not a world for someone who doesn’t want to play. The tech brain is the culture brain engaging in intense repetitive restrictive behaviors, memorizing the details of the plot with no care for the actual story. All trees, forest be fucked.
I know that puzzles calm some people. I know my Wordle trickster friend plays Threes not for the game itself, but as a fidget spinner. I know my brother does crosswords for similar reasons. I know all this. But I can’t get away from the endgame impulse. From the goal. And implicit in that, my never achieving it. That’s probably why I like movies with no plot. Why I like meandering nowhere with countless characters. Why spoilers do not concern me. Why sausage-factory shows are of no interest to me (it’s like winning the first level of some middling arcade game over and over and over again). And it’s probably why when I watch the Olympics, I don’t care about the results. I can watch some beautifully deranged voguing choreography from a French team of figure skaters and that’s enough. It’s why my favorite part of the Games was the female snowboarders—after the game. When they all piled onto to each other, everyone from competing teams, just embracing one another, after watching each and every performance in awe, no one paying attention to the scoreboard. Because in that moment of pure exultation, that shit just doesn’t exist.