Art Moves Through the World: A Collection of Wordle Variants

If you haven’t heard of Wordle, you probably aren’t on twitter. In the past few weeks, the game has taken that particular social media platform by storm, and the New York Times recently announced that it would be purchasing Wordle for somewhere in the “low” seven figures to add to their collection of word games. The game, they said, would “initially” remain free.

A screencap of the Wordle user interface.
The game.

So what is Wordle? It’s a guessing game wherein you have six chances to guess that day’s five-letter target word. With each guess, you’re informed which letters in your guess were incorrect (marked by black squares), correct but in the wrong position (yellow squares), or correct and in the right position, matching the target word (green squares). Baked into Wordle’s design is the fact that there’s only one word each day, which increases the sense of competition between players. (How may guesses did it take you today?)

Part of its popularity on twitter comes from a function that lets you report your result for the day as a grouping of colored boxes without spoiling the result. This is an elegant and fun solution, but not terribly accessible for those who use screenreaders.

A screencap of black, yellow, and green emoji boxes, displaying how Wordle appears when shared on social media.
How to share on socials.

It shouldn’t be surprising that, given Wordle’s popularity, a myriad of variations of this fairly simple game have cropped up, and as someone who studies the ways that art propagates through communities, my favorite thing has been seeing the creativity of all these variations, coming from all over the internet.

There’s an important lesson about storytelling we can take from these variations, which is that cultural art objects like Wordle (yes, games are art objects) never really die, but spread and morph as they move through communities. The same is true of stories, whether we’re talking about major YA franchises spawning unending reams of fan-fiction or a relatively unknown short story suddenly turning into a motion picture. Hollywood’s obsession over IP (which, yes, is very noticeable in this day and age, but also has a long precedence back to Hollywood’s beginning) is a reflection of this: we, audiences, like seeing the things we love resurface in new and surprising ways. It makes them, and us, feel alive.

Wordle is very much alive. Recently I wrote a twitter thread collecting some of my favorite variations, and now I’d like to present them to you here.

While the idea of a Wordle movie seems inevitable, given Hollywood’s penchant for the popular, I’d encourage you instead to look at the fringes of the community, where designers have made new, sometimes better, platforms to play on. And as storytellers, we can learn a lot from attending to the ways this popular artifact has spread across social media.

With the New York Times’ purchase of Wordle, who knows what will happen to this free little gem bringing a little connection to so many who are still isolated? While the Wordle name may someday be litigious, my only hope is that these variants will continue to pop up and flourish.

If you know of any other good Wordle variations, let me know in the comments!

(And yes, this post was at least partly an excuse for me to talk about a game I’ve spent far too much time playing lately.)

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