Scrabbletastic
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Scrabbletastic

Scrabbletastic

I haven’t slept for days, haven’t left the room for hours. It’s been just me and my computer for so long that I don’t even know if the rest of the family still live here. My daily routine has been abandoned to such an extent I’ve lost track of whether its pm or am; what does it matter after all, in this new world without borders. One man’s Greenwich Mean Time is another woman’s Eastern Standard Time.

Hello, my name is Marc, and I’m addicted to Scrabble. There, I’ve said it. Admitting I have a problem is the first step, but apparently there are eleven more in this program, and I’m pretty much gasping for breath just levering myself onto the first one. I don’t know if there is a support group for my addiction; a brief search on Google just provides temptation not salvation.

I can’t remember now what got me started down this road, perhaps it was a friend, maybe I chanced across the website during a leisurely browse of the Internet. It doesn’t really matter, what matters is the sheer dedication that this affliction demands. It seemed so innocent at first; a game here, a game there. That didn’t last long though. The first day I discovered the attractions of Scrabble on the internet, I played for an hour. On the second day, I played for hours. After that, I stopped counting hours and days.

I mainline the substance of my addiction through something called Wordbiz by users; an innocuous enough name for something that has by turns brought me to my knees and lifted me on the shoulders of angels. I downloaded it to my computer in a few minutes and was immersed in the world of the Scrabble junkie right away. My first game gave me a taste for victory that I have been chasing ever since. Chasing the dragon, so to speak, though dragoon would be better, because then I’d get the 50 points for using all seven letters … It is an illness, honestly. It should be treatable on the public health service.

Success came so easily at first; classic beginner’s luck. I didn’t appreciate the emotional cost of those easy victories. Casually I took for granted the euphoria that accompanied the pronouncement by the computer referee of each win. Surely the endorphin rush was the same experienced by athletes on running tracks and playing fields all over the country; a natural high attained through the wonders of technology and without ever sweating for hours in the gym.

It didn’t take long before winning wasn’t enough; I wanted more. And there was more on offer. Like the Mother Superior in Trainspotting, named for the length of his habit, Wordbiz has a long memory. It remembers every little transaction, right back to the beginning of your addiction. Wordbiz is at one and the same time, drug dealer and crack den. It provides both the product and the location to share your special interest with others of a similar disposition. You’re never alone in Wordbiz land, at any time of the day or night, there are 3,000 and more other poor lost souls engaged in orthographical combat as though their lives depended on it.

Wordbiz is open for business no matter what time of night or day you might call, and there is always company to be found where my guilty pleasure can be shared. And I am guilty; guilty of neglecting personal hygiene and the daily routine of family life.

I think perhaps this dereliction of parental duty might begin to worry my kids, at least if it goes so far my wallet is no longer be able to satisfy their needs as young consumers. For the moment I’d guess they are happy enough being left alone to do their own thing, without me nagging them about everything under the sun.

Ah, the sun, I remember it well. Big thing, very bright. Like my monitor screen when I turn the study light off, but round. And not covered in a devilishly contorted octopus of letters forming words that would never be uttered in polite society. Unless it was a Scrabble society, that is. Then words like qat and xis would be rolling off their lips like high-scoring conversational tidbits. Good fellows to know in a tight spot, those two, when most sane human English speakers would be screaming for u know who.

I almost quit at on point. The initial buzz was getting harder and harder to find. It took all-night marathons just to maintain the effects of one win where once just a couple of games had been enough to give me that warm fuzzy feeling. During that low period wins came few and far between. It seemed my early success was the exception rather than the rule. For every match I lost, every opponent who thanked me for a ‘good game’ when they had won by a hundred points, I sank a little deeper into a dark depression.

From reaching the heights of an early rating of 687 I was now drifting listlessly in the doldrums of the low five hundreds, along with the other hopeless cases and floundering newbies. Sulphurous, that’s the only way to describe the feeling each time I lost a game, dropping precious rating points and what felt like pieces of my shredded dignity on the way.

It wasn’t just the sympathy of the Nigerian player who beat me at four in the morning that fuelled my self-doubting despair spiral, or the quadriplegic guy who said that maybe I would improve with practice. More than that, it was that the more games I played, the worse I got. That was the definite low point, in the terminology of Insert Addiction Here Anonymous, I had hit bottom. However, I didn’t quit. I didn’t quit because I started to win again. As steep as my fall from grace had been and as easy, so was my return to favour.

Opponent after opponent fell to my word skills, and like it had never been gone, the buzz was back too. A peak of elation followed smartly by the hollow feeling that needed filling with another Scrabble fix, but in a good way. I dismissed thoughts of quitting as the failings of a weak mind. I was back in the groove, and my ratings reflected that resurrection from the bush leagues.

I am ashamed to admit I introduced my brother to the hardcore Wordbiz scene. It wasn’t enough to abase myself before the altar of Wordbiz; I was recruiting for the faith now as well. In all innocence, he asked what I was up to one evening, and to my eternal regret I told him. Worse than that, I gave him first hit. He stayed downstairs in our living room using the kids’ computer for the next five hours; my wife had to throw him out in the end. Two days later he phoned, boasting about how many games he had won and the stratospheric rating he had achieved. Taking my silence for envy, he challenged me to a Scrabble duel, but I was just remembering my first time, back when the high had been easy to attain.

That revitalisation was almost a week ago now, and since then the same cycle has been repeated; each loss is instant depression and a reason to keep playing until a win that brings instant gratification and encouragement to continue. I’m sure I’ll be to cutting back on the number of games I play sometime soon; it’s only been a fortnight so no rush. Right now I’ve got to get a couple more wins under my belt to get my rating back up. Send me your handle, we’ll play sometime.

[toggle title=”Wordbiz ratings”]
Your Wordbiz rating changes with each win or loss, in direct relation to the rating of your opponent. You lose points for a defeat, and gain them for a win; the rating of your opponent determines how many points are at stake. Beat someone with a much lower rating than you, and your rating may not change at all. Lose to them and you could be kissing a whole heap of rating points goodbye.
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[toggle title=”Where to play”]
You can play Scrabble on the internet through a program called Wordbiz, downloadable from www.isc.ro , the website of the International Scrabble Club, which currently has over 7,000 members who have so far played a staggering three million or so games since the sites inception in 2001. There can be anywhere up to 3,000 people playing at any one time, so you’ll never be short of a game. Even in the unlikely even that there are no human players available you can play one of the ISC computers.
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[toggle title=”Other online games”]
Any card or board game you ever played as a child are available to play online, as well as puzzle-type games that are unique to the electronic world, such as Tetris and all its variants.
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