“Qi”? You’ve got to be kidding me…that’s a word? That’s a yes according to the popular word building game, Words With Friends. Time to add that to the list of words I’ve learned while playing.
The Scrabble-esque multi-player game created by Zynga is one of the most widespread apps for smart phones, consistently ranking in the top 25 apps purchased through iTunes and Android since its debut in 2009.
It’s also a growing craze across college campuses, leaving us glued to the phone and away from books. But, really, is it all that bad that we’re wasting time on a game based on strategy and showing off our lofty collegiate vocabularies?
Some studies show it could potentially, although limitedly, boost our intellect–as if we needed another reason to download it.
Last year, a group of researchers from the Psychology Department of the University of Calgary conducted a study with competitive Scrabble players, finding that dedicated players were better able to spot words than people who didn’t play.
“So Scrabble doesn’t make you ‘smarter,’ but the dedicated practice that people put in to mastering the game does shape the way that they spot words,” said PhD candidate in Psychology, Ian Hargreaves, lead researcher of the study.
He said that what students can learn from Words with Friends depends on how dedicated they are to learning what new words mean. “The only way it’s likely to improve your vocabulary is if your friend plays an unfamiliar word, and you go and look it up,” Hargreaves said.
Tomas Moore, a senior at the University of Arizona said he loves playing the game casually, but that many people he plays don’t take the time to look up the new words they create.
“Although it makes you think creatively by brainstorming word placement, sometimes kids play words they don’t know the meaning of but they don’t look them up, which isn’t helping you learn anything,” Moore said.
If you’ve got more than a few games running, Words with Friends may just be cutting into class time. Dr. Walter Boot, a psychology professor at Florida State University, said the game is a big distraction from what students really should be giving attention to–the material.
“The idea that a fun game like Scrabble can make us smarter is appealing, but if you really want to improve your academic performance, my advice would be to spend more time on the academic material,” said Boot.
So, playing the game probably won’t help us write our papers or solve math equations. But at least we’re exercising parts of the brain that aren’t working when performing other non-stimulating activities, like, say, watching Jersey Shore.
“It gives me something mentally stimulating to do when I am bored,” said Jana Stolting, a sophomore at University of Colorado, Boulder. “If I’m going to distract myself, I might as well do something moderately constructive. Besides, sometimes I need the little victories it gives me. ‘Jazz’ on triple letters and triple words tiles is an instant ego boost.”
But there’s one thing taking away from our mental stimulation and it’s called the cheating app, which is almost as popular as the Words with Friends app itself. We adopt lazy habits by using the word generator, not to mention we are committing a major school no-no by cheating.
“It’s a dishonor to the spirit of the game,” Stolting said of several friends she’s noticed cheating. “As distasteful behaviors go, it ranks somewhere between not tipping the pizza guy and giving trick-or-treaters dental floss on Halloween. It’s just wrong.”
So for now, play Words with Friends dedicatedly, without the cheat app, and you might just exercise your brain muscles a little more than those who don’t play. It’s too bad playing phone games probably won’t directly boost our GPA, but at least we know what “qi” means—and for those who haven’t looked it up yet, it’s the noun variant of “chi,” whatever that means.
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