“Beyond the Scrabble Word List” at IndieCade East

N-Webz and me at IndieCade East

N-Webz and me at IndieCade East

I gave a talk titled “Beyond the Scrabble Word List” at IndieCade East last weekend. It was a great experience! I’m very grateful to the IndieCade East organizers for giving me a chance to talk at such an amazing event. And such an awesome venue! I’ve never given a presentation on a screen quite as big as the screen in the Museum of the Moving Image’s Redstone Theater.

The gist of the talk is this: Scrabble’s rules and structure reward players who can spell words that are difficult to learn and difficult to spell. Being good at Scrabble is therefore an ersatz measure of “literacy.” But “literacy” isn’t a neutral concept; prescriptivism is a form of oppression and literacy is a privilege. The (implied) conflation of “being a good Scrabble player” and “being a good person” is one of the reasons that Scrabble (and other word games) can cause so much contention and bad feelings in play. One solution is to design word games with the same assistive technologies that people use in real life to cope with the difficult learning curve of the English language, like spellcheck and autocomplete.

The slides and notes (including citations) for the presentation are downloadable here.

The ideas in the talk are very raw, and reflect my own evolving thought on the topic. I’m not totally satisfied with the completeness of my own critique, and certainly the solutions I’ve proposed for the problem are very rudimentary. But I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on the talk so far and welcome further comments!

(Photo by Tim Szetela)