I usually regard Facebook games with the same resentment and disapproval I have for skinny jeans and recumbent bicycles. On the one hand, I appreciate the Inception style humor in people wasting time playing a video game while wasting time surfing Facebook, but on the other, I don’t care how many heroin pies you made in MafiaCafeWorld and I resent your attempts to make me.
But then, there’s Words With Friends.
We didn’t play board games much in the Capps household – my parents found them boring and pointless, and then video games got invented and I’ve never looked back.* Much to Hasbro’s chagrin, we ditched family game night in favor of eating dinner together, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, and playing Mario Kart 64 virtually every night for three straight years.
*There was a monthlong period in fifth grade where Mom played regular games of Monopoly Jr. with me in hopes of bumping up my math skills to at least a first grade level – take a look at my SAT scores if you want to see how well that worked out.
So while I’ll kick your ass at Mario Kart 64, I’m up shit creek if you want to play Yahtzee, Sorry, Risk, poker, cribbage, or virtually any other game that doesn’t plug into something. I’m just inherently bad at formulating strategies for victory in a system where I have to remember all the rules myself. As a result, sitting down to play a board game with friends is usually a pretty stressful process.
Before we start, the other competitors will assure me that the game is pretty simple and then give me a quick rundown of the game rules, which I will simultaneously misunderstand and immediately forget. I’ll stumble through the first few turns and then, thinking I’ve got the hang of it, start to play competitively, driving for a landslide victory.
”Oh my God! That was the most incredible turn I’ve ever seen! Let me tally this up… Crap on a spatula – 987 points for Truman! And you say this is your first time playing? Are you a genius? Well, obviously, yes, but even by those standards this is very impressive. Here’s $7. No, take it. It’s the least I do after what you’ve shown me today.
Inevitably, before the game is up I’ll play what I think is my masterstroke, only for my friends to point out that what I’ve done is in blatant violation of half of the game rules.
”Truman, you can’t play the red card. The game is called ‘Don’t Play The Red Card!’ How could you possibly think that was a viable strategy? Here’s $7. Use it to buy anti-retard pills or something.”
Recently, though, my friend Dylan invited me to play him in Words With Friends on Facebook – essentially, a browser based version of Scrabble. In spite of all my hesitance toward Facebook games and board games, I gave Words With Friends a shot; after all, it’s a game based entirely around knowing big, obscure words. There hasn’t been a game better suited to my particular skillset since ‘Whose Hair Will Clog The Shower Drain First?’
My assumption has always been that the English language is so vast and complex that if you cobble together a series of consonants and vowels into an easily pronounceable form, there’s a better than average chance it’s a word. However, if Words With Friends has taught me anything, it’s that English is just sprawling enough to be confusing but just small enough that none of your seven Words With Friends tiles spell anything but CAT.
Take meandle, for instance. Looks like a word, sounds like a word, would’ve netted me 40-odd points if it was a word, but it’s not a word. Same goes for frandine and theaser – looking at them, you can imagine them being the names for obscure literary devices or penguin muscles, but as it turns out, they’re convincing looking nonsense (although in many cases when I Google my speculative words, they turn out to be the name of some 14-year-old’s deviantart page or YouTube channel).* In analog Scrabble, you could play these words off as real – in which case the actual skill on display wasn’t your vocabulary, but your bullshit artistry.
*In all seriousness, I tried to play the word ‘pantsed’ against my friend Chloe, only for the game to cluck its tongue and tell me that ‘pantsed’ is not a word. Clearly Words With Friends didn’t go to middle school.
Dylan, it seems, has been having no such troubles, and he’s been linguistically cornholing me all over Facebook for the past week.*
*Neither Cornholing (action), cornholed (past tense), nor even the singular noun cornhole are accepted in Words With Friends, which is really painful whenever one of my friends plays ‘corn’ in the vicinity of a triple word score tile and I’ve got HOLE just waiting to get played.
In most cases I’m willing to accept defeat, because I’ve recognized that, like all people, I suck at far more things than I’m good at. But I’m a writer, goddamn it – if I’m not good at wordplay, then what the hell am I good at? Dylan is a great video editor, but we’re not playing FinalCut With Friends, here; he should not be beating me at all, let alone by such an embarrassing margin.
So I’m fighting back. I’m studying up on Scrabble theory, memorizing words with Q and Z but no U, and I’m considering making a looping recording of this list of 2 and 3 letter Scrabble words and listening to it while I sleep.
A lot of the reason I never got good at other board games was because, like my parents, I always found them sort of pointless – winning at Monopoly is great, but what have you gained in the long run, short of the ire of your bankrupted friends? I’m motivated to get good at Words With Friends, though, because in my eyes this is the sort of game I should be good at. When I win at Words With Friends, the real prize is cheap, petty validation, and I can’t get enough of that.
So to all of my Words With Friends opponents who might be reading this: Just let me win – it’ll be way easier for the both of us.
Truman Capps is theaser that he’ll be able to get meandle into the dictionary.