By Cassie Peterson
Despite my desperate love affair with words, I have never liked playing Scrabble. Recently, someone asked,
Why do you hate it so much? You should like it — you’re a writer.
And at the time, I couldn’t articulate exactly what it is about the game that is such a turn-off for me. The reasoning is bigger than the fact that I don’t have the patience for it or that I find it boring… there is something more, something deeper. So I thought about it and here is my rebuttal:
Scrabble is an oppressively fascist “game.” An entire ultra-capitalistic world is created and bound up in that distinctively branded board and in those familiar enamel tiles. The structure (and underlying goal) of Scrabble is such that words are mercilessly stripped of their meanings and connotations and then valued only in their most basic and utilitarian forms, much like waged laborers.
Scrabble is simultaneously the reification of words and the debasement of language. In the most seductive and divisive fashion, the “game” separates letters from their comrades and then attributes economic value to each of them solely as pseudo-independent individuals. In this process, a stringent class system is created and codified within the oppressive confines of the game – vowels are constructed as the working underclass (most common, hardest working and yet compensated the least amount) and obscure letters like Q or Z are valued in an aristocratic fashion — imbued with the highest value despite doing far less work. Rarely used consonants enjoy the privilege of the leisure/corporate class while the hardworking proletariat is used in the production of every single word. Letters/Words no longer possess an unconditional worth and value, but are commodified and assigned an arbitrary numerical value — creating a strange and artificial currency that dictates the Scrabble system’s success and progression.
Scrabble: Letters separated from words, separated from lines and sentences, separated from the potentiality of prose/poetry and therefore cut-off from deeper meaning, self-expression, community, and alternative ways of knowing and being.
When working together, the proletariat has an insurmountable amount of value and power — the power of a Paragraph or a Page. And if further connected to the other classes of letters, whole narratives could arise. Imagine that! Yet the Scrabble system keeps every letter insular and disconnected from a larger vision of itself — alienated from the alphabet’s inherent interdependence and creativity. An “E” in tandem with an “N” or an “R” has far more potential than if left to its own isolated devices.
But the tyranny of Scrabble will not have it.
Even when words are constructed, it happens in a vacuum — each tile forced to fit into a tight, suffocating space, far away from the fluidity and beauty of a phrase or a sentence or a complete prose.
So I say to all you letters,
Rise Up! Break free!
Revolution is upon us! Join hands and free yourselves from the shackles of Scrabble. You are not alone — together you are a force to be reckoned with. United you can leave the Scrabble board and live harmoniously in any kind of semiotic arrangement you desire…. Yes, even in stanzas! Or verses! Manifestos! Novellas! Imagine the possibilities!
Scrabble is the Opiate of the Masses… Free Yourselves!