Words With Friends has gone from an app of little fame to one of the top-grossing apps on iTunes in what seems like no time at all.  According to Zynga, the company responsible for the game, over 10 million people are currently playing, and with the launch to Android, many more are expected to follow. Judging by the fact that 84% of the players I interviewed heard about the game through a friend, it’s no surprise that the social-networking aspect of this game has helped in its rise to glory.

Further advancing the game’s success? Most of these newly addicted players continue to spread the word about Words, begging their iPhone/Android friends to join in so they have more opponents to battle.  Not one single player I interviewed (out of about 35) plays only one opponent or one game at a time (the lowest number was 4 games at once). This is a multi-player and multi-game community. Easy to understand, as the addictive game-play usually lasts several days/weeks. It is nice to have alternate boards to be able to play when waiting for a move.

While conducting my interviews, I was most intrigued by whether or not users played random players. I wanted to see how the power of Words could create bonds between strangers.  I found that over half of the players (68% to be exact) have experienced random-play, and many actually prefer it. In fact, when using the terminology “randoms” to ask these players about their beloved opponents, many of them responded with the term “regulars” instead. Tamara Olson Scott explains, “Some of my best regulars began as random players.” And Rob Martino jokes, “aren’t they all my friends?” Implying that real friendships can evolve from this game. Friends with Words

Something to keep in mind: when a game of Words is complete, a new game does not automatically start. You must re-match your opponent. So how do you choose whether or not to rematch them? With friends it’s an obvious decision: play again. However, it seems a little cutthroat at first when playing a random. To re-match or not to re-match, that is the question.

After completing my first random opponent interview through the game’s chat function, I was unsure of whether or not to re-match “StephySakaXana,” afraid of annoying her with thoughts of more questions. But much to my surprise, she re-matched me, and added a message: “Play again?” I feel this relationship evolving into a “regular” situation, especially since she has a similar skill level to myself.

But what else qualifies a random for the re-match? Steve Iacono says “It depends on the tone of the chat—you can tell if people are interested by the way they chat. If you try and chat and they reply with one words answers, then they’re either non-chatters or bored. I am still playing someone I first met as a random over 6 months ago, we play moves every single day.” Steve’s response stresses the importance of the chat in evaluating your opponents. 100% of those interviewed use the chat function, however, several still feel uncomfortable talking to random players. Nevertheless, when chat is utilized, the most common exchanges are about the words that have just been played (“that’s a word!?” or “Damn, 68 points!”). However, this often branches off into questions concerning where-in-the-world this person you are playing lives.

In fact, in several cases, the chat function has lead to much more than just small talk. Megan Lawless and Jasper Jasperse met through WWF, and are to be wed this July. According to the NY Times, “it was a very out-of- character thing” for Ms. Lawless to try random-play, “But the game went well: she could tell that she and her opponent were evenly matched in terms of skill. Her opponent proposed a rematch, and repeated games led to chatting about their personal lives.” The rest is history. Another player, Jeff Schell, publicly disclosed via Facebook that he and a random opponent have been playing dirty:

“One woman I play with, just started off chatting, one thing leads to another. And now we talk dirty to each other! Exchange sex stories! Ideas and fantasies!! Were both happily married, agreed to no last names, no phone numbers, no pics, no Facebook , no hang ups! Our spouses both know and are fine with us flirting! Her husband and my wife both reap the benefits!! It’s spiced up both our sex lives! There are two happier couples, one in Missouri and one in California!! Thank you Words With Friends!!”

Now what’s sexier than a little word play?

The openness of these people astounds me, what is it about words that break down our sharing boundaries?

Perhaps it is because I conducted all interviews using the chat function or through the Facebook fansite, so all responses were typed—allowing players to once again spell out some nice words for me to gawk at.

Or, perhaps it is because “words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth” (V for Vendetta).  We feel at ease around these people, chatting in text-form only intensifies the word experience. We have learned that words are important, and depending on positioning, it can have more of an effect or gain us more points in the long run. Word selectivity: a practice that be translated off the board and into real life conversation.

5 Responses to “A Play on Words”

  1. peternenov says:

    I was surprised to learn about the power of the chat function in Words with Friends. While I’m not sure I will use it for sexual purposes, this travelogue has given me the courage to play my first random game. I also liked the way that you analyzed the dynamic of starting a rematch!

  2. ahmedbekh says:

    Great post Jenny, I love the idea of creating words, perhaps because English is my second language. I feel I need to keep at it to get better. I have a game on my Iphone called Werdle which is similar to Words but you can’t play several games at the same time. I just download Words and can’t wait to get addicted.

  3. mdeseriis says:

    Jenny, can you cut the article on the home page please?

  4. mdeseriis says:

    Hi Jenny, I love your travelogue and there is no much I need to add other than I never thought about the possible “erotic implications” of Words with Friends. The Greeks had already recognized this aspect and thought that through writing and reading people exchanged much more than ideas. With Words with Friends this dynamic is amplified by the fact that words intersects in every direction (i.e. the linearity of writing is disrupted) and there is reciprocity (players write and read at the same time). Further, the dislocated co-presence of social media can only add to the mystery (an evocative power that physical Scrabble does not have). It is great that you were able to collect 35 interviews, even though you ended up using just a few of them.

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