Thursday, May 17, 2012

My alphabet addiction

5/17/2012

My son ruined our family life. When he came home for the holidays, he brought with him a highly addictive drug that's cheap and easy to get anytime and anywhere. It consumes every minute of your life that you will give it, and then it wants for more.

The name of this scurrilous menace? It's called Words With Friends.

WWF is a compact version of Scrabble that was developed by Zynga, the same company that brought Farmville and other games to Facebook. If you're not already hooked, you've seen or heard about Words With Friends. About 20 million people play the game every month on Facebook and many more play on their smart phones or tablets.

Boomers and seniors are often attracted to word games because they will help keep their brains sharp. I've learned dozens of new words when an opponent drops words like HUNH or PEIN on me. And I've resurrected some old Scrabble favorites like QAT and GOX.

But Words With Friends can also have a dark side. Maybe you remember that story about Alec Baldwin getting kicked off a plane because he wouldn't turn off his phone. He was playing Words With Friends. And last month a teacher in Northern California was charged with having an improper relationship with a 14-year-old boy. Police said it started with text messaging and Words With Friends. At my house we've avoided trouble with the authorities, but we all seem to be all in with Words.

My wife and daughter each got a new Kindle Fire at Christmas, but doubt either one has finished an e-book. They're both too busy playing letters and fretting about the competition. Not that I have any room to be critical. At any given time, I have games in progress with three cousins in Chicago, my son and his girlfriend in California, my wife, her sister, my daughter, one of her friends, a couple of business associates, and a former high school girlfriend in Florida. We addicts do love company.

Like many other social games, Words With Friends will comb through your collection of Facebook friends and point out ones who are already hooked. Just click the "Invite" button and you'll have another one hooked. If you don't already have game-playing friends, the software will find some for you and hook you up with a random opponent. If they want, random players can get to know each other using a built-in chat feature. But be warned - there's danger there, too.

Around Valentine's Day, the Wall Street Journal published a story about people finding romance over their alphabet tiles. It featured a couple in Georgia who were married last November after a year-and-a-half romance that began when they each hit "random opponent." Another story reported on a man who moved to the U.S. from The Netherlands to marry a woman he met playing Words. And that's not all that unusual. A poll commissioned by Zynga found that 47 percent of players say they are "crushing" on someone they're competing with and one out of 10 players say they have hooked up with an opponent. Don't say I didn't warn you.


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Follow me on Twitter @ricmanning and read my technology columns at My Well Being.

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