Urdu, Chinese, even Old Norse: how Wordle spread across the world | Mind games

It only took two days for Louan Bengmah French version of the viral game Wordle to get into trouble. His online dictionary produced “slush,” Quebec slang that was essentially a co-opted English word in North America.

French players who hoped to join the hundreds of thousands of English speakers cluttering social networks with boastful grids showing how quickly they had guessed a mystery word, were frustrated.

“I got a lot of criticism, and I understand why, because it wasn’t really French,” he said ruefully. He has since combed through the word bank used for his game to weed out similar loanwords in other languages.

Despite these teething problems, his program took off – one of dozens of copies of Wordle around the world attracting a non-English speaking audience that could soon rival the original game’s millions of players.

There are few languages ​​in the world, dead or alive, that don’t seem to have at least one amateur Wordle clone. The relative simplicity of the game – just one five-letter word a day and six chances to guess it – makes it relatively easy to create similar programs from scratch, helping to spread the craze globally.

A “Words of the World” page on the GitHub website lists more than 350 entries. Some are English versions like a Harry Potter-focused “wizard wordle” and the explicit Sweardle (bad words), but over 100 are in other languages, from Somali to Icelandic, Hindi to English. Hebrew.

A few have become behemoths in their own right, like the Portuguese version Termo. “I worked on it for about a week – I didn’t expect it to turn out like this,” said its creator Fernando Serboncini, 40, who now has 400,000 users but makes no profit from the game. .

Others remain a little more niche. Old Norse was spoken in the late medieval period in Iceland and Norway, surviving only in written form after the 16th century, but it also has a wordle, created by Tarrin Jon Wills, a dictionary editor. It was wildly successful by the standards of a language that only a few thousand people read on a regular basis. Since he implemented it two weeks ago, the number of visitors to the dictionary site has doubled and there are a few hundred regular players.

“Part of it’s just a game, but part of it is a way to see if we can get people interested in the dictionary and the project we’re working on. And it worked really well,” Wills said.

Linguistic differences mean that adapting to other languages ​​can be difficult and require major changes.

In China, words are formed from characters rather than letters of an alphabet. Li Zhong, a programmer living in the historic city of Hangzhou, wanted to create a version for Chinese gamers. It took her a few days of talking with her sister to think about how to adapt a game based on word guessing. Rather than words, his game launches a kind of Chinese idiom known as chengyu, always composed of four characters, and interspersed with daily speeches. It now has over 70,000 users, the majority in Singapore. “Wordle’s success shows that not everything has to be an app, and you don’t always need a big company to create a product that really takes off,” he said.

the New York Times bought the rights to the original Wordle last month, but declined to say whether it would seek to clamp down on clones in other languages.

Lawyers say he might have trouble taking them offline. Depending on local copyright laws, it could at best rely on imitators to alter their color scheme and layout away from Wordle’s green, gray and yellow grid.

“Generally speaking, copyright does not protect ideas, only specific expressions of those ideas,” said Kathy Berry, intellectual property attorney at Linklaters. This would cover the code and graphics of a game like Wordle, but not the underlying idea.

Wordle’s simplicity, which is a big part of its appeal, could also make it harder to hunt down imitators, as its format echoes those used by many other games and game shows in the past.

Awais Athar, a computer scientist from Cambridge, created an Urdu version – Urdle – three weeks ago. He decided to shorten the words and add an extra guess, to reflect a different linguistic structure.

“A four-letter Urdu word can have as much phonetic information as a seven-letter word in English,” he said. “Lowering the word length made sense from the start to increase playability without making it too difficult.”

Like other Wordle creators in different languages, he combines programming experience with a love of word games, and was first drawn to the English version before deciding to launch his own three weeks ago. .

He hopes that New York Times will not try to crush the global wordle movement. “I hope they don’t shut down the adaptations,” he said. “[It seems from media reports] their acquisition is intended to introduce more word games to existing Wordle players, and I wholeheartedly agree. Word games make people happy and we should spread the joy as much as possible!

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