News is just in: Ireland is officially the leading Wordle playing country in the world. According to the online gaming database, Solitaired, thirteen per cent of the Irish population google the vocabulary-based puzzle each month, putting us ahead of other English-speaking nations such as Britain and Australia. We might not be so far off from de Valera’s land of saints and scholars after all.
Initially created by a developer looking to entertain his partner, the game has since exploded, with over 300,000 people engaging with the it daily, and, as a recent convert to the daily problem-solving app myself, it isn’t hard to see why. Its high replay value does however provoke a niggling question – do games like these actually make us any smarter?
According to gaming experts such as Penny Pexman, the short answer is not really. But that doesn’t mean that they’re not good for us either.
Essentially, what puzzle challenges like Wordle do, is they provide us with cognitive stimulation. In attempting to figure out the five-letter word, we are forced to use deductive reasoning as well as our visual memory, which stimulates the prefrontal cortex of our brain. It also requires a high degree of focus, a quality which is often lost in this age of fast and easy stimulation. The problem is, is that with time, we tend to develop strategies that lessen the degree of mental effort needed to solve the problems. (Using a lot of vowels in your first guess, for example.) Therefore, we are not actually exercising our brains much at all.
This phenomenon has perhaps been best demonstrated through studying the minds of professional Scrabble players. It was found that though they had an advanced ability in terms of recognising words, they were unable to apply this skill to other areas of life. In other words, their brain had been trained to better at the game specifically, not overall.
The fact is that despite our modern view of the brain as being a muscle that can be strengthened through continuous use, actually doing so is quite difficult. Most puzzles only stimulate our minds in a way that pertains particularly to the game. Disappointingly to some, the most reliable way to improve our cognitive function is through actual, physical exercise. This is because moderate exertion increases our heartrate, causing more blood to be sent to the brain and, in turn, can stimulate the growth of new brain cells.
This doesn’t mean that we need to switch out our Wordle-ing for a treadmill, though. Another sure way to improve our brains is through socialisation, which Wordle does encourage. It has become a common conversation topic both in-person and on social media to discuss the daily challenges and arguably, its social component is the main reason as to why the game has garnered so much success throughout the pandemic. On top of this, the puzzle also causes our brains to release dopamine, which improves our mood, memory and attention span.
Overall, it doesn’t look as though we are on our way to becoming a nation of geniuses. However, despite it not being as beneficial as some might have hoped, it’s still clear that our daily Wordle is still a healthy way to engage the brain.