I come from a fairly literate family. That, in and of itself is hardly noteworthy – except maybe it explains my use of words like “noteworthy” and phrases like “in and of itself”.
As a child, we had Scrabble, along with a bunch of other board games. While my parents would tolerate Parcheesi and Monopoly with us kids, they and some their adult friends were dangerously good at Scrabble, especially my Dad. With his roots in the theater and education, he has never been one to be messed with in the realm of words. I remember him routinely doing the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in ink, in one sitting. It was typically a long sitting, often in the privacy of the basement bathroom – but that’s for his blog to discuss (In a recent Facebook post, the 83 year old lamented having trouble with both this week’s New York Time Sunday Magazine crossword and the Harper’s puzzle. If this trend keeps up, I’ll be as smart as him by the time he’s 119).
One of the exciting aspects of Scrabble was the challenge. If a person doubted another player’s word, it could be challenged. I’m sure there were penalties for the accuser or the defender depending upon whether the word was real or proven false. I had no poker face whatsoever, so in countless games of Scrabble with the family, I never once considered trying to put one over on them, even if my Dad wasn’t playing. Bluffing with non-words wasn’t part of how we played the game anyway.
Alas, I’ve once again sunk into sentimentality. Today, most Scrabble games are laying lost and forgotten in the backs of closets, covered with dust and missing tiles. These days we have “Words With Friends”, a thinly-veiled, digital bastardization of Scrabble. I played it briefly on my phone with a few friends and was disappointed with the lack of any sort of challenge, not to mention the seriously flawed dictionary it possesses. The things which it defines as words are laughable. I was amazed when one person played the word “oa” against me.
“That’s not a word!” I howled “There are no consonants in it! It’s an abbreviation for osteo-arthritis, fer cryin’ out loud!”
It appears that many of the people who play the game, when frustrated with a lack of easily spelled word opportunities, just resort to randomly throwing letters in a row or column, hitting “submit” and hoping for the best. When rejected, they simply throw another batch of letters in a line and try again.
Like many things in popular culture, Words With Friends has increased its annoyance quotient by becoming a staple of Facebook. Now, in addition to status updates like:
“Jerry Sandusky just made a new friend, named Bubba”
– or –
“Marie Antionette just had a piece of cake”
We can also have ones which say:
“Sally Jones just played ‘Xyllp’ in Words With Friends”
– or –
“Bob Smith just played ‘cat’ in Words With Friends”
Now I’m torn. Who should be more embarrassed; Sally for playing a word which doesn’t exist in any language, or Bob for settling for ‘cat’ when we can all assume that there must have been a better word available? What kind of culture are we existing in when people are so cavalier about airing the dirty laundry of their limited vocabularies and/or their lack of gamesmanship? Don’t get me wrong, in a pinch, I would spell cat for the measly 5 or 6 points it gets me, but I would never do so for everyone to see! For the record, I would never spell xyllp, even if I had a triple letter block for the ‘X’, because it’s not a damn word!
Meanwhile, their competitors, oblivious to what’s going on, are busy looking for motivational posters to slap up on their Facebook walls, driving kids to soccer practice or maybe changing the litter box as they wait for notification that it’s their turn. Games can stretch on for months as people pay attention to them when the spirit moves them.
As if the lack of a large vocabulary and any skill in spelling among W.W.F. players isn’t bothersome enough, the lack of attention to the game is the final straw. I can recall board- and card-games played in my life, where one of the participants was preoccupied with something else. Someone at the table would eventually slam their fist down and ask “Are we playing (insert name of game here) or not??!” Game play allows, and is even enhanced by, a degree of social interaction and off-game topics of discussion, but when it’s your turn, it’s your damn turn. Taking 3 days to get around to your turn is not “playing”. It’s just a sad version of life-support for a pet you don’t really care about.
This all begs the question as to whether taking 72 hours to take your turn in a game is a more profound waste of time than writing a blog about it.