How To Spell “Addiction”

Addictions come in many forms. For me, my addiction started as a friendly game, but quickly transformed into a compulsive activity. Like any child, I was easily bored, leading me to search desperately for some form of entertainment. I tried a variety of sports and creative arts including kickball, basketball, band (the flute specifically), and dance, but the only pastime I truly enjoyed was playing board games, particularly strategic word games like Scrabble.

Unfortunately, the only time I was able to play board games was during large holiday gatherings when all my aunties, uncles, cousins, and other random relatives would go over to my Grandma’s house. Thanksgiving in November, Christmas in December, my Grandma’s birthday in August, and of course, Chinese New Years in February. I anxiously awaited every big holiday and birthday, just so I could play with people other than my older brother. I quickly grew tired of his violent, combat-style video games. I just wanted to play board games. Since family gatherings were limited to a few times a year, I knew I needed to find entertainment elsewhere.

As a studious child, and later teenager, I remember constantly searching for fun activities after a tiring day of school and homework. Unlike many of my friends, Facebook and other social networking sites failed to capture my attention. Staring at the constant glow of my computer screen waiting for someone to message me was unbearable. I craved a more engaging form of social interactions. I yearned for the accomplished feeling I often associated with the board game victories of my childhood.

Luckily, during my early high school years, many popular board games transformed into convenient mobile versions, but the only game I was concerned with was Scrabble. Some of my friends considered these word games as nerdy, educational, or too difficult as the game forced players to test their spelling and expand their vocabularies. Unlike my friends, I enjoyed the challenge of these competitive word games. I never considered them educational, they were just fun.

Even though, I enjoyed playing Scrabble with my family and friends in-person, the new app at the time, Words with Friends became the more popular app for mobile devices because it was free to download.

Both the Scrabble app and Words with Friends conveniently connected to Facebook, allowing users to play with existing “friends”. Unfortunately, even with the transition to more mobile devices, I often experienced difficulties when trying to connect to the word game since the game required a stable Internet connection. When I played Words with Friends at home, I experienced no problems. I could play on my iPod Touch, my family’s iPad, or my laptop because the entire house supplied my devices with strong wireless Internet. When I was at school, I was not as lucky.

As a young teenager in high school, my only mobile app-wielding device was my 1st Generation iPod Touch, which often struggled to connect to my school’s wireless Internet. Unlike many of my friends, I did not receive an iPhone or even a data plan until my freshmen year of college, so during high school I had a pathetic purple flip phone that was only useful for voice calls and 100 text messages. Anyways, even if my iPod Touch was able to connect to the Internet at school, I was only able to play my games in between classes or during lunch. I hated when I would be sitting in class, then suddenly feel the vibration of my iPod Touch in my pocket, notifying me that it was my turn in Words with Friends.

On a more positive note, when I was with my mom on the weekends and after-school, I was able to use her iPhone 4 to play my word games. My mom had the luxury of unlimited data on her iPhone, allowing me to constantly access my games on her phone. Unfortunately, unlike in-person board games, the apps lack urgency, allowing users to play at their own leisure with no time pressure. Whereas I usually avoided the chat sidebar in the game, I frequently messaged my friends with phrases like “Your turn!” or “Are you done?”, in hopes of speeding up the games. Despite occasional Internet issues when trying to connect with friends, the technological advances of these games simply fueled my addiction since I was constantly exposed to the game. From there, my addiction simply grew.

When I first downloaded the app, I only intended to play with existing friends, but as my competitive spirit grew, I began playing random players, seeking more formidable foes. In hopes of receiving faster responses, I also started playing multiple games at once, with both friends and strangers. I remember during my sophomore year of high school, I convinced my cousin, who was in his late-20s at the time, to play a game of Words with Friends just so I would have a new opponent. When a game did not move quickly, I would simply find another random opponent and start a new game. When given the opportunity, I remember sitting idly with my iPod Touch for hours, waiting for my opponents to respond. Even though, I enjoyed the thrill of the competitive word game, especially the feeling of playing high-point words, I realized I should be more productive with my free time. This is not to say I quit Words with Friends for school or an extracurricular activity, instead I used my time to study and improve my gaming strategies.

Screenshot from a game with my friend where I won by 1 point.

Everyone knew how obsessed I was with Scrabble and Words with Friends. If I was looking at my iPod Touch at school, my friends would immediately assume I was playing Words with Friends. Regardless of my peers’ opinions, I invested a large amount of time into these word game apps. When I had free time, I would search for hints and tips on Google, such as useful two-letter words or common words with the letter “Q”. One year for Christmas, my mom even bought me the official Scrabble dictionary, which I studied in hopes of expanding my vocabulary and improving my score. Towards the end of high school, I realized aside from personal satisfaction, my intense gaming habits had no benefits. Whereas I had heard stories of individuals playing Scrabble competitively, I knew I would never be a professional Scrabble player. With that in mind, I finally decided to stop playing Scrabble and Words with Friends. I didn’t stop cold turkey. Occasionally I would play a game, but in the back of my mind, I knew I needed to focus on my academics and my future.

Now, I am in my third year of college. I have not played a game of Scrabble or Words with Friends in a couple of years, aside from the traditional in-person games with my family during holiday gatherings. Whereas the physical board games peeked my interest in competitive word games, the new media versions of these games genuinely changed my perception of these games. When I reflect on my high school days, I realize how immersed I was in the electronic versions of these word games. Even though I don’t play the game anymore, I still find myself gravitating towards geeky, novelty Scrabble-related items. Whenever I go into a bookstore or gift shop, I automatically feel the need to purchase anything Scrabble-related. I currently have dozens of unique Scrabble novelty items, including mugs, posters, pencil cases, and jewelry. As I was playing the mobile versions of Scrabble and Words with Friends, I did not realize how influential the games were in my life. As Scrabble and Words with Friends continue to drive my interests, I realize they are not just games, but an entire world, a culture. Through my journey and experiences with strategic word games, I now know how to spell addiction and it is more than just a 13-point word.

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