I’m a little late to the whole Words with Friends phenomenon.
The mobile word game, which is basically the same as but not associated with Scrabble, was released in 2009 and rose to immense popularity in 2010 and 2011. I just downloaded the app about a month ago, to compete against my boyfriend.
The game is set up so that you can look up people you know by username or Facebook or you can be randomly assigned an opponent using “Smartmatch.” The latter is where the trouble started.
See, when my boyfriend was showing me the ropes of the game, he told me that he mostly plays with strangers.
“Does anybody ever try to chat with you?” I asked.
“No, never,” he responded.
I have since heard from other men that they didn’t even realize there WAS a chat feature embedded in the game. But it turns out that when you’re a woman, even something as seemingly innocuous as playing a word game is a different experience.
I immediately started getting messages from men (and only men) I was randomly paired with to play the game. These ranged from simple greetings like “hello dear” to outright commentary on my attractiveness. Even in cases where the messages were not blatantly flirtatious, the men would often continue sending message after message despite my lack of response and clear disinterest in doing anything other than playing the damn game.
And I need to reiterate ― not one woman (other than my mom) has ever sent me a message of any sort on Words with Friends. This is only something men are doing, and I’ll venture to bet they’re only doing it with women. At least I can’t imagine they’re also sending “what’s up dude I like your picture” chats to male competitors.
Speaking of my mom, since we play each other in the game, I asked her if this ever happened to her and she said yes, adding “What do they think is possibly going to come of it?” and “Half the time I just resign the game.” The latter is also my preferred strategy, despite the fact that resigning a game registers as a loss and thus tanks my game stats.
Also, my profile photo isn’t of me baring my breasts ― it’s a regular, Facebook-style headshot like most men have on their profiles ― and I’m not Words with Friends’ answer to Helen of Troy. Curious how many other women this must be happening to, I posted a screenshot of one of my would-be suitor’s chat come-ons to my Instagram and received a flood of comments from women who have had the same experience. Multiple women commented that they had stopped playing entirely because of it, and related having similar experiences with other apps and online games.
“OMG I stopped playing. I couldn’t believe it either. Like I just want to play a GD word game.”
”Me too. Now I only play women. It’s ridiculous.”
“I HAD TO DELETE THIS APP FOR THE SAME REASON OMG I’M DYING ― IS THIS A THING?”
“Most recently I had a dude on there ask for my measurements.”
And my personal favorite, “Ugh same here! It does my head in!! Just play your damn word, Andrew!!”
JUST PLAY YOUR DAMN WORD, ANDREW.
This may seem like a petty gripe, and in a world of Brett Kavanaughs and Harvey Weinsteins, it is a small annoyance. But it’s also the kind of silly and inexplicable nature of the whole thing that grates ― really, women can’t even be left alone to play a dumb word game online? We have to confront a sexist double standard in Words with Friends ― that seemingly genderless and strife-free time-killing app ― of all places? It feels disparate ― like getting sent a dick pic while playing Candy Crush.
And these kinds of microaggressions add up ― whether it’s the fifth time you’ve been catcalled in a week, or that final bit of unwanted attention that drives you out of a space, virtual or otherwise, that you have every right to inhabit.
I haven’t given up on Words with Friends entirely, but my boyfriend recently pointed out that our latest game had timed out due to inaction on my part. My initial obsession probably would have faded anyway, but the annoying dudes definitely helped drive it into the ground more quickly.
Until I come up with a high-scoring way to spell “F**k off,” I guess I’ll be on the lookout for a new Internet time-waster that doesn’t have a chat feature.