My addiction is my 77-year-old mother’s fault. I was visiting her at her home in Wickenburg, Arizona, and she was doing the usual: waiting on me hand and foot, watching sports on TV, and—this was new—playing a game on her phone.
“What’s the game, Mom?” I asked. Oh, I was so innocent then.
“You don’t want to know,” she said. She glanced furtively at my sister, who was slowly shaking her head back and forth, mouthing the words, “don’t do it!”
“But I like phone games.” I had some experience, after all—I’d played a bunch of Angry Birds, Words With Friends, and Draw Something.
“No. You really don’t want to start playing this game.”
“C’mon, Mom!” I was 58, but I felt like a whiny teenager.
“Okay, then,” my mom said. She knew I’d never give up. I’m just that curious. And stubborn.
She sat down beside me and showed me her game—Candy Crush Saga. On her screen was a grid of orange, red, yellow, green, purple, and blue symbols (candies). All she was doing was moving the candies to line up three identical candies in a row. When three candies lined up, they vanished and the board reshuffled, and she commenced moving candies again.
“That’s fun?” I said skeptically.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “Don’t start playing this game. Trust me.”
But I had already downloaded Candy Crush Saga from the Google Play store. It was free. I, however, have not been free since.
I have become enslaved to Candy Crush Saga’s diabolical gameplay mechanics.
Scholars have researched how to design games in order to keep us playing, and game designers are paying attention. The Candy Crush designers, whoever they are, are good.
When you play Candy Crush, you can feel the game pull you along. Each new level is a mystery. You play a new level and, if it’s a difficult level, there’s usually a stage when you think you’ll never beat it. It seems impossible. But then you obtain some “special candies”—fetchingly striped or exploding square or (oh, yes!) bulbous black—that clear the board in flashy ways and give you hope. After a few more failed attempts, a strategy emerges that gets you closer to winning, and then there’s a moment when you realize that it is indeed possible to win, and you will win only if you play well and get a lucky arrangement of candies. Candy Crush has you in its sweet, maniacal grip.
The fact is, I play Candy Crush because it feels good. I can lose myself in it. When I beat a hard level, I feel as if I’ve worked hard to reach a goal, and I’ve finally prevailed. It’s a less real accomplishment than folding a load of laundry or loading the dishwasher or writing a blog post, but it feels so much more important.
I know myself, and I know that one of these days I’ll put Candy Crush down and never take it up again. I’m not generally one of those people who get addicted and spend all their money on virtual merchandise. But there are plenty of people who do. Candy Crush Saga rakes in more than $800,000 per day from its player base of more than 132 million people.
I don’t spend much money on Candy Crush (my Starbucks habit is much worse), but I have become concerned about the time I’ve spent on it. And several of my friends have downloaded Candy Crush Saga, become alarmed at the time they’re spending, deleted it from their phones, missed it terribly, downloaded it again, and had to start all over again.
All I know is, as usual, my mom was right. Don’t start.