Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Why It Makes Sense To Cheat At Words With Friends

Cheating may be awful, but there are worse things. Like whining.

We've all heard from the sanctimonious angels that whisper into the ears of Words With Friends players that they should play it straight, drawing only on their limited vocabularies to execute their plays in the popular Scrabble clone.

I'm here to clip off those twerps' wings and shove them down their coarse-from-crying throats. The only way to play fair in Words With Friends is to cheat like John Travolta at a massage parlor. By telling your opponent at the outset that you'll be a scamtastic punk and look up possible word combinations online, you level the playing field, eliminating all the distrust and animosity that the game tends to inspire. If the words you use are pronounceable, score fewer than 30 points and can be used in a sentence by anyone other than the owner of an advanced English degree, you're not trying.

The problem with playing Words With Friends in a friendly way is that it often turns games into Silence Between Bitter Enemies. There's too much temptation to boost your odds by playing dirty, and thus impossible not to blame a loss  due to an obscure word on your soon-to-be-ex pal's malfeasance.

Cheating runs deep to the rotten core of Zynga's all-powerful workplace distraction. Even the game's abbreviation, WWF, dares you to cheat. Did Junkyard Dog, Andre the Giant and the Ultimate Warrior accomplish what they did by obeying the rules of the ring to the letter. No sir. These great men weren't afraid to find an edge with the odd folding chair bash, illegal choke hold or smuggled tire iron.

Commenters, I know you're already dreaming up ways to trash this argument, comparing my line of thought to those scalawags in Call of Duty games who float through walls and rain death with one-button insta-kills. Stop right there. Exploits that sully the game with code-altering hacks ruin things for everyone, and aren't in the same classification as WWF cheating. I'd argue, in fact, that refusing to cheat at WWF breaks the game in the same way that hacking in first-person shooters does.

Refusing to cheat in Words With Friends is refusing to look up the answers in an open-book test.

Once you make peace with the fact that you're an unprincipled goon, you BASE jump into the rabbit hole that game offers, discovering just how deep the game gets. Tossing the vocabulary penis-measuring contest aside, you discover that WWF is about tactical tile placement. The winner isn't the luckier one, but he who is able to psych the enemy out, thinking several moves ahead, taking manageable risks and weighing the occasional rope-a-dope sacrifice to set up a giant score.

The act of cheating is a compelling metagame filled with pitfalls, risks and tests of hubris. Although armed with all possible plays, you still need to decide where to place the tiles, whether -- and when -- to stack words next to one another for a low-scoring slugfest or open up the playing field for a shootout. The better thinker wins out, while the losers complain they got bad tiles. 

That said, there are certain rules for cheaters to follow. One, tell your opponent what you're up to, and insist they do the same, otherwise things won't work out. Two, no abandoning one-sided games in the middle to set up new challenges without first resigning and cleaning the slate. And three, the loser of the last game is always responsible for requesting a rematch.

Some get annoyed with those who escalate their cheating ways to attack drone levels by using a program that lets you lay out all the letters on the grid and suggests the best play.

While I don't use grid cheats because they sap the fun out of the event, I don't begrudge those sorry losers who have to resort to such methods to put up a good fight against me. I'm pompous enough to be certain that using a grid's suggested play would somehow warp or scuttle the genius tile placement that I come up with. I relish victories over them and feel like Garry Kasparov that time he beat Deep Blue.

Other opponents insist on playing by the rules, and in these matches I smell blood. I respect the scruples of those who refuse to cheat, and I love handing them 300-point beatdowns that make them pause to reconsider their ways.

Sometimes, usually out of laziness or haste, I'll bypass a pilgrimage to the cheating sites. But I often pull back out of indifference or pity. it's like a football coach who pulls his starters not so much out of good faith, but to see if his backups can humiliate the opposition the way his first team could.

If you're ever playing against me and I'm using words that appear to have been generated by a human rather than a computer, rest assured that I'm mocking you, handing you a three-stroke handicap on the golf course, suggesting use a tennis racket in the batting cage or bowl with bumpers in the gutters.

The endgame in WWF is to frustrate the opponent to the point where he no longer sees purpose in challenging you. When a longtime rival begs off, ending our series, I feign sadness that covers up satisfaction. I consider refusing to rematch to be total submission. A miniboss defeated and disposed of, allowing me, the end boss who proudly spouts horns, spikes on his back and breathes fire, to tend to my evil empire and crush all comers with a titanium fist.

Unless, of course, I get bad tiles. In which case I rematch that grid-using shyster.

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