The group behind the Facebook application Scrabble posts a picture of tiles reading ‘M3O1M3E1N1T1S1’, asking ‘how many words can you create?’ The comments beneath are unanimous: ‘pity the letters C, R, A, P weren’t there!’, ‘you caused upset worldwide the MOMENT you changed all this’, ‘your new format is rubbish!’; plainly: ‘bring back the old Scrabble’. In May, Mattel, the creators of the immensely popular Facebook game Scrabble, briefly announced to all its players to finish up their games as the format was changing, to a new and improved playing experience, provided in conjunction with gaming giants EA.
The reaction has been unanimously uproarious, like the flipping of a board at the end of a losing game, with the tiles going flying; but in this case it’s the flipped board that’s prompted the upset, in the form of Mattel’s deletion of all players’ data in one fell overnight swoop: no more stats of longest words, highest scores, and best bingos; no more communication with opponents users hadn’t added as ‘friends’. It’s a radical erasure, but one rather to be hoped for from the NSA or other secret(-stealing) services than from a programme details are willingly given over to under the assurance they will remain stored. Petitions have been set up in protest of the revamped game (with its newly built-in capitalistic gimmickry: the insertion of a currency with which you can now buy more board designs and features of the old version missing from the new, at the ‘store’), and even the mainstream news have reported the debacle. Now, months on, anything that is uploaded to the Scrabble fan page, such as ‘MOMENTS’, is met with instant invective. The squabble, however, is no longer even acknowledged by Mattel.
Although ‘it’s only a game’ in the case of Scrabble, in an increasingly virtualised world, we might have to draw some wider consequences concerning the online community space and the strictured and prescribed capacity of the comments box as a means of voicing concern or dissent. An aspect of such social media is that it is able to represent to the user an assuring reality of ‘everyone being on the same page’ when the case may rather be that everyone is only on the same social media page; awareness that such a structure can be put to use to quarantine as well as to collectivise should be kept. As the Scrabble rabble will attest, the comments box can be ignored easily, and, although able to bring so many disparate voices so proximally close together, it can also reinforce their very distance (in physicality and non-commutability) if needs be.
The question this leaves for the Scrabblers is how to viably voice their antidisestablishmentarianism (38 points) in relation to the new game. The question for forthcoming digital generations is: what can be taken to, virtually, in the place of streets?