Amidst pandemic lockdown, the game of Scrabble is among the saviors of sanity. It is so in our family. I taught Scrabble to my wife, Victoria, and created a monster. I rarely play her anymore so she plays her mother, who is imprisoned in assisted living. To listen to the two of them chat by telephone during a game, Dr. Somlo seems to score a bingo (50 bonus points for using all seven of your tiles) every three turns. Yet my pupil frequently wins. They love Scrabble. They play Scrabble every day. I thank God for Scrabble.
But now the computer app of Scrabble, which enables them to play digitally over vast distances, is being discontinued and replaced with a “new and improved” version, Scrabble GO, which, according to a letter sent to users on March 12, takes over at midnight tonight.
Josh Bernoff, a writer in Arlington, Mass., has written a cri de coeur urging Hasbro (its owner, based in Pawtucket, R.I.) not to kill the Scrabble app. He recognizes that Scrabble is even more important in what has officially come to be called “these times.” He adds that “[w]hen you are 85 years old and the authorities are telling you to stay shut up in your house, Scrabble is more than a diversion. It is an essential coping tool.” My dear mother-in-law is 86. Why must she put up with Scrabble Go, or make do with lesser substitutes such as Words With Friends?
Bernoff tried Scrabble GO and here is how he describes it:
It is an obscenity, characterized by childish interactions, lurid colors, nagging reminders to invite your friends to play, and some sort of incentive system based on (gag) jewels you can earn.
In short, it’s stupid, ugly, tedious, infantile, bothersome, doomed to failure, and thus it perfectly reflects how modern culture, in the name of “upgrade,” or, more broadly, “progress,” insists upon the right to make everything worse, and does so without the slightest indication of shame. It is just like modern architecture: It cannot live side by side with traditional, classical Scrabble because soon there would be nobody who still wants to play the modernist Scrabble GO, and Hasbro obviously knows it. The Scrabble GO target market is already too addicted to more garish computer games that don’t require the ability to spell. This is why the old Scrabble app, rather than serving as an alternative to GO, will depart this world at 11:59 tonight.
Old Scrabble is, after all, as Bernoff writes:
like the voice of Alex Trebek — calm, authoritative, and intelligent, reassuring us that the world remains sane and that we can take comfort in something trivial but engaging. We need this now.
Yes, we do. Since I no longer play Scrabble as often as I once did, I have more time to discover and expose parallels between modern architecture and other really bad stuff. Hence this post. To channel Steve Bass, may Scrabble GO go the way of New Coke.