Something weird has been happening on Words With Friends. I wonder if it’s just me. If I were an investigative journalist, I would undoubtedly dive in and make a little documentary about it. I’m lazy, though, and that’s not my beat. Maybe I’ll just do a little humor piece instead.
Mine is a Scrabble family. Both of my grandmothers were tile queens, basically unbeatable with their eighty-point plays. I grew up around the board. My aunties invited me to play as soon as I could write basic three-letter words, and they beamed with pride when I laid down my first legit move. My brothers and I initiated my nephew the same way, allowing him to keep score for our games with his sprawling numerals when he was still too little to spell.
That’s why I play Words With Friends. It’s a way to reach out to distant family.
I’d quit playing for a couple of years; I lost heart when my grandmother passed away and all my games timed out. I challenged my brother to a game for the first time in quite a while. I didn’t intend to play anyone else.
I started getting all kinds of game requests from strangers, typically five a day. It didn’t take me long to notice a couple of things.
One, they were all white men roughly 5-20 years older than me.
Two, they all wanted to chat, which, no offense, I hate and do not want to do.
Three, they were all really terrible at the game.
Ugh, another one! I would tell my husband. What are all these dudes thinking, trying to start games with me? I’ll stomp a mud hole in their board!
I accepted the first few, and then I started declining all of them. Three or four timed out. I wound up resigning the chatty ones as well because I just couldn’t stomach it. I didn’t want to block anyone and hurt their feelings.
See, I was still assuming these were real people.
I had this idea that some podcast or dating book was advising lonely older fellas to pick up women through Words With Friends. Huh, I thought, what must that be like? I’m 44 and super mega married, but if I were single I would go out and meet people face to face.
After declining a bunch of invites for several days, I thought, Maybe it’s my profile photo. For someone a decade or more older I might look reasonably appealing. I took a new photo showing only my ring hand. For the record, I wear the world’s most unambiguous wedding ring ever, a plain gold band. I’M MARRIED, is the idea here.
The weird invites kept coming.
“These guys can’t even play!” I told my husband, who at this point was bemused and had also gotten sucked in. We were playing each other, taking turns winning by over a hundred points per match. I think he blows his whole lunch break on our games. “What are they thinking, challenging someone at my level?” I’m not, like, ranked or whatever, but I do have nearly 40 years of experience. “Average word score, seven points? I played better than that in first grade!”
Finally, I got one! I was so excited. A challenge from a player with a higher average word score than me, that’s a challenge I’ll accept. He opened with a nice 59-point bingo.
The chat began immediately. “Hello beautiful Jessica.”
I threw up in my mouth a little, but after four turns this was shaping up into an impressive board. I thought, if only I can get him to cool the Lothario BS then we can get down to business. I replied.
“I’m extremely married btw. Just here to play. Impressive opening!”
He resigned with a 20-point lead??
I had been telling my husband about the exciting development of the Worthy Challenger. We both got some comedy value out of the situation. I wondered openly if this guy was using an app to make his plays, just so he could... make his plays. A new kind of “neg,” to make your opponent question her gameplay and think you’re some kind of stud?
They might be onto something, I thought. I used to tell everyone after my divorce that I would only marry a man who could beat me at Scrabble. Be careful what you wish for, wink.
It clicked for my husband before it clicked for me. It’s a phishing scam, he said.
These may actually be bots, or I suppose there could be a bunch of live humans hunched over their keyboards in some corner of the world, trying to lure in lonely old women. It happens on dating sites All. The. Time. “Oh I love you schmoopy, now please send me tens of thousands of dollars for plane tickets/bail money/my sister’s surgery” and goodbye retirement.
They obviously don’t know their gaming broads.
Personally it’s hard for me to imagine anything less attractive than a game request from an arrogant man, non-respecter of marriage vows, who can’t even freaking play. My parrot could run a better board, but then she cheats by feeling out the letters with her tongue when she draws her tiles.
You can recognize these invites pretty easily. They’re all professional headshots and I’m pretty sure every one of them has a beard, like the guy from the Most Interesting Man in the World ads. Several of them are snuggling cute little purse-dogs. Come on. If these were “real” men they would all be either holding a fish or leaning on their car.
I do play strangers from time to time. I have a regular partner, a woman about my parents’ age, who has been beating me by around ten points. Breathtaking endgame. I have another, no idea what gender/nongender they may claim, who plays well and also never chats. As far as I’m concerned, we can go on like this forever. My brother has one as well; they’ve been playing for several years.
I feel lucky to live in a world where I can play virtual board games, with my family, my husband, and well-matched strangers. I also feel lucky to be the kind of skeptical curmudgeon who is more or less invulnerable to flirtation. I hope you’re trying to flatten me, not flatter me.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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