One of my favorite things about Facebook has been the chance to play Scrabulous with friends near and far. I’ve never been a fan of Scrabble, but somehow, this Facebook implementation of the game became a perfect way to exercise my mind while communicating with friends. The game was not perfect, but it was goofy in charming ways. Most importantly, it worked. On machines old and new. For friends everywhere.
Of course, it was a ripoff of Scrabble. Now that Scrabble has an authorized alternative on Facebook it has demanded that Scrabulous be shut down. The Scrabble.beta that is the alternative from Electronic Arts misses on almost every dimension. First and foremost, it does not work. It is slow on the most recent machines and pretty much unusable on machines just a few years old. In addition to that it is annoying, noisy, playful in all the wrong ways. It animates everything, bubbles silly sounds, and makes you feel like you are goofing off rather than communicating with friends.
I think Scrabulous, by accident or design, stumbled on the fact that a game could be a communication. That a game could be serious. It got out of the way almost entirely. It let us play in a way that mattered much more than animation or silly sounds. It let us play with each other.
Scrabble.beta, not so much. Today Scrabble succeeded in shutting Scrabulous down in the US and Canada. I believe in the long run they will find this was a mistake. I have no idea how, but I think this will backfire. Meanwhile, delicious irony, when I go to Scrabble.beta on Facebook I get this message: “Sorry, Scrabble is temporarily unavailable due to maintenance. Please check back later.” Don’t count on it!