"Flirty girlz only who can also have S.E.X.Y. chat," reads Syed's open-table Scrabulous challenge. "Age must be less than thirty. Send a msg before playing a game." According to his stat board, Syed's player's rating is 947 — not dismal, but nothing to brag about — and he's looking for hot women who play according to the English TWL dictionary.
He'll find them. Scrabulous, the Facebook application that allows users to play Scrabble against each other online, has turned Hasbro's slow, stodgy board game for vocabulary enthusiasts into one of the internet's sleazier pickup joints. "Any ladies want to play strip Scrabulous?" beckons Jamie. "Hot women, MILF only, no men, prefer Canadian," specifies Mike. "Just waiting 4 the right horney [sic] women to appear!!!!" announces Andrew, adding, "Like blondes but all welcome."
It's not just men trolling for women, either. "I've played games where I have been made to feel so horny I had to touch myself," says Alicia, a slightly older woman with whom I ended up engaged in a particularly licentious match. The atmosphere within Scrabulous has become so amorous that players who don't want to talk dirty while they play have begun specifying so: "Looking for a player with a similar rating to me, no sex chat nonsense," reads one open challenge. "Just a regular game, no pervs," reads another. A few weeks ago, the game's administrators finally added a function that cordons off "adults only" tables into a section separate from games "suitable for all ages."
If you're one of the increasingly rare internet users who doesn't play Scrabulous, here's how it works: You can play against people you know, or you can play the "open tables," which are hosted by people looking for challengers. As an open-table host, you can indicate what type of challenger you're looking for — for example, you're looking for a high-level player (Scrabulous rates players with its own ranking system) who wants to play in real-time (as opposed to over the course of several days) and who is a twentysomething, buxom brunette with filthy syntax.
The monotonous pace of Scrabble is perfect for an online game of smutty Scrabulous.
The game itself is just like Scrabble, and to the right of the board is a text field where you can chat back and forth with your opponent, a space for two consenting adults to talk about whatever they want.
And what they often want to talk about is sex. They want to know what you look like, whether you're married, and what you're into. They want to flirt like a drunken bachelor on a singles cruise. The atmosphere ranges from playfully flirty to shockingly depraved. Which prompts the question: Why Scrabulous? What is it about this game that's generating such heavy virtual petting?
Because on its surface, Scrabble is no Twister. Its board is a prosaic, melancholy wash of pallid blues, reds and grays. Opportunities to maneuver are restrictive (no saucy diagonals allowed). And scoring is banal — most letters are worth an underwhelming one point. Most mood-killing of all, the game is slow and it's long — a ten-minute wait between turns isn't uncommon. Combine a fireside game of Scrabble with a bottle of Chianti, and you and your date will be asleep before the first triple-word score.
This monotonous pace, however, is perfect for an online game of smutty Scrabulous. For many players, once the lewd dialogue begins, it supercedes the game itself. Long stretches of time between turns mean ample chance to hone one's dirty talk. "I don't think people really pay attention to the game once the flirting has begun," says Jack, a serious player with an impressive rating of 1,500+. He often seizes upon his opponent's distraction to win the game and further increase his rank. And he appreciates the metronomic rhythm that regulates and compliments the natural back-and-forth of verbal seduction. "The excitement comes from the fact that you have to take turns to flirt: your turn, my turn. You have to wait until the other person has completed their turn before you get in your next line."