A cartoon cat with huge eyes holding ABC letter blocks.

Kitty Letter word-scrambled my brain

Kitty Letter is a free mobile game from the creator of The Oatmeal webcomic. It’s a simple word game that quickly engraved an obsessive repeating pattern into my brain. Here’s my cautionary tale about the game.

In Kitty Letter, you unscramble words from a scattering of letters that appear through an enchanted vortex from the multiverse of infinite vocabularinitie (pictured below). You move your finger from letter to letter to form words, like a miniature swipe-to-type keyboard. Every word you find spawns magical cats that march across the street to explode your neighbor’s house. Your neighbor started the exploding cat barrage, so it is morally fine to fight back.

The letter vortex is colorful and oddly enticing.

I’m not a fan of The Oatmeal webcomic, but the game looked cute when I saw it mentioned on The Verge. I thought it would be an okay way to kill a few minutes of downtime. We’re only a quarter into the pandemic year of , but it feels like it has lasted about a year already. Somewhat ironically, the game sat on my phone for a few weeks before I found the time to give it a go.

I then started playing it for about six–ten minutes each day for a week. I wouldn’t call that excessive, but it was a little hard to put it down when I’d gotten started. After three weeks, I’d played 108 online matches; each game lasting a little over two minutes.

After the second week, I started to picture the letter vortex in my mind. I would swipe at letters in my mind, and they would always conveniently form the random word I was trying to type. Repetitive actions and patterns create habits, so I thought I was mentally making a habit out of the game. I didn’t think too much about it at first.

After another few days, the vortex and the mental swiping would pop up in my head at random times throughout the day. I would involuntarily unscramble word after word and couldn’t clear the picture of the letter vortex from my mind. Then I started having trouble falling asleep.

I didn’t feel an urge to play the game, though. I wasn’t fantasizing about winning or playing the game. I was solely thinking about joining up letters to form words in the vortex. Is it a game addiction when I didn’t feel an urge to play the game? I felt good about my kill/death ratio of 1,76 as a non-native English speaker. Though, I can’t say I enjoyed playing the game or even winning all that much.

I stopped playing the game, and I didn’t have an urge to pick it up again. However, it took about five days after quitting before I no longer saw the letter vortex in my mind’s eye. I have, obviously, uninstalled the game from my phone.

As I’m writing this, I’ve noticed that just looking at the above illustration of the letter vortex sets me off. My brain begins on a w-i-l-d c-h-a-s-e f-o-r m-o-r-e w-o-r-d-s. It’s difficult to break out of it once I get going. I can’ explain what it is with this game in particular that triggers me.

It’s not the first time I get hooked on a game, but it’s the first time it has disrupted my thoughts in daily life. People aren’t always good at recognizing when something isn’t good for them. I’m glad I could recognize that this game wasn’t good for me.