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When did scrabble become woke?

Updated: 4 days ago

Some people have become awfully riled up about the newly announced Scrabble game after Ray Adler, VP of Mattel, announced that they were introducing a newer version called ‘Scrabble Together.’ Following a recent study from Mattel that discovered younger generations weren’t as interested in the competitive element of games, this new game mode incorporates more collaborative elements and tweaked rules. 

In response, many veteran or self-proclaimed board game enthusiasts have taken to social media to express their anger. Their passion burned brighter following an announcement from Adler stating that ‘Scrabble Together’ aimed to be “inclusive for all players” and encouraged those who “felt that word games aren’t for them or felt intimidated by the classic game” to join in on the fun. Unthinkably outrageous, isn’t it?

Being affectionately dubbed the #wokescrabble by some creative detractors, responses have ranged in severity. Some sneer at Gen Z for being over-sensitive and avoiding competition, while others express their fears, as this easier version no doubt signals a societal decline. 

Resistance to change is not new, but this controversy is emblematic of the frustration felt by many surrounding what is viewed as a “woke” agenda. Principal Consultant Cathia Randrianarivo questions the validity of even assessing a board-game change like this as ‘woke,’ stating:  

I am not sure whether people who tend to throw the word ‘woke’ around actually know what it means, where it’s come from, or why it matters and to whom it matters. It feels like it’s become a bit of a ‘hang-anything-that’s-different-or-changed-here’ peg in modern discourse, which is unhelpful to both those familiar and those unfamiliar with the word.”
‘Inclusivity’ and other words associated with diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) have become co-opted by critics to undermine and dismiss changes that challenge the status quo and target previously ignored demographics. It impedes the purpose and application of the policies or measures taken and instead only views it, at surface level, as an infringement on the ‘old way’ of doing things. 

Our CEO Asad echoes this sentiment:

Organisations are using the words ‘more inclusive’ in their corporate communications, and more and more often this word alone is being engulfed by the woke / culture wars conversation. It suggests that things have gone too far, but have they really? What’s wrong with having two versions of a game so that more people can play it and enjoy it?
What I find more interesting is that the game is less competitive than the original, which suggests that there’s a change in how young people are feeling and also about how they want to spend their time. I’m not Gen-Z, so I don’t know if that’s true, I personally like a bit of competitiveness so as long as that isn’t taken away then I can’t see the harm.

Mattel is trying to ensure that Scrabble remains relevant for coming generations, particularly as we head to a more online existence. This inevitably involves catering to their way of playing board games, which is different to previous generations. We asked parents within our team how they chose board games for their children to play.

 Shilpa Saul, Director, shares her perspective:

I don’t really like board games, and therefore I don’t buy them for the kids — luckily friends and family have gifted them with various things over the years such as Scrabble, Operation, Monopoly etc, which I’m super grateful for because on the very odd occasion when all 5 of us (or even 4) have time to sit down together it’s a nice way of coming together.
The games I play with them tend to be super easy — Celebrity Bingo is a highlight! — or those memory games where you have to find matching pairs of things. Fun for younger kids, but my teenagers aren’t bothered now!
I really love doing jigsaw puzzles with my youngest as the other kids can join in if they want, and it gives me time to have a chat with him.

For Managing Director, Simone Marquis, board games are a staple in her household:

I buy games that are stimulating, fun, and something we can all do as a family. We play things like Sherlock Holmes, which is good for intellectual challenge. Our fave game is Scattegories. Also love a bit of Mario- I like to mix up the modes so it keeps it fun. We’re a big gameplay house and I would always look for new and interesting games. The most problematic game I have ever experienced is Cards Against Humanity, which I played one round of with some friends, and we put it away almost immediately. I just don't enjoy games like that nor want them in my house.

The parents seemed to value how board games could bring together their families over the content of the actual game itself. They liked the idea of having a variety of options and opportunities to collaborate or compete. We also asked specifically what they thought about this new non-competitive version of Scrabble.

Principal Consultant, Selina Kotecha, adds her thoughts:

We play a lot of board games in our house and have tried to teach the kids that it is not all about winning all the time. For example, I don’t 'let' my kids win against me to save their feelings, losing is part of life so we need to know how we deal with it. We do sometimes play in teams too to mix it up a bit and prevent individualism, so I am open to different versions of things. Sometimes, just because things have been done a certain way, that doesn’t mean it has to be the same forever. As society develops and evolves, having different versions of games can keep things interesting and cater to different needs.

It is disconcerting how the language of D&I has been appropriated and used to create outrage around considerate changes for different groups. It asks questions about how we should be discussing D&I efforts and if the language businesses use currently serves its purpose or needs to evolve. However, amidst this current controversy for ‘Scrabble Together,’ it is important to remember it is simply just another game mode, not a replacement. Who knows, if you give it a go, you might enjoy the new rules anyway. Sacrilege, I know. 


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