While travelling on the tube to work, I noticed the number of people playing a puzzle game on their phone. Maybe 7 or 8 people all playing the same game – matching coloured gems together. I thought this was very odd, until I spoke to a friend who said “Oh, that’s Candy Crush”.
As the days go by, I see more and more people playing the game. I ask my friends and everyone gives me the same answer: “You must play it, it’s SO addictive”. At this point something strikes me – why would I want to get addicted to a game? Drugs are addictive but no one thinks it’s a good idea to try and actively get addicted to them. A little flippant, but I’m sure you catch my drift.
Is started to think “How addictive can it really be?” So, I took the plunge and downloaded the (free) app from Play Store. Then things started to change.
What is Candy Crush?
To reach the next level, you have to match 3+ candies in a row (score-related). If you lose 3 lives, you have to wait to get more. The more you play, the longer you have to wait. You can also pay for more lives (70p which is as much as a basic app). Now, considering this is a free game. you may ask, why would you pay?
Once engrossed in the game however, you can see exactly why you would pay. In our ‘I want it now’ age, we are not accustomed to waiting. Especially when it comes to technology, it’s easy to reason with yourself, “I’ll just buy one life, because I will beat the level next time”.
I found every spare moment was caught up with playing this game and I could see everyone else who plays also has a similar look of desperation when their lives were gone. It reminded me of when I was young and the look my friends had when their last 2p had gone playing arcade games on the pier.
What makes it so addictive?
What exactly is so engrossing about this game? Other games have been and gone but this seems to be catching on. Plus, it’s making people spend money on virtual lives and power-ups that need to be bought again in a matter of hours, or even minutes.
Much of the game is luck. This is interesting subject to look at as it shows that we are essentially at the mercy of the game. No matter how good we think we are, if it doesn’t supply the right candies or power-ups you cannot beat the level. This is what makes the game so addictive.
Parallels to gambling
When looking at the mechanics of a gambling machine we can see the parallels with Candy Crush.
When we pull the lever and win some money, we experience a potent rush of pleasurable dopamine precisely because the reward was so unexpected. The clanging coins and flashing lights are like a surprising squirt of juice (dopamine). The end result is that we are transfixed by the slot machine, riveted by the fickle nature of its pay-outs. This ultimately leads to us thinking we have some effect on the outcome of the slot machine and we create superstitions based on this control we believe we have on the random payout.
The early stages of candy crush reward us for completing levels by giving us 3 stars (creating superstitions on our ability to control the outcome of the randomly generated pay-out) and as the levels get harder we use these skills (or superstitions) to play the game until the game allows us to beat the level by supplying the right candies (thus, releasing dopamine into the brain, reinforcing the addiction). Then leading to many of us paying for virtual credit in a game with the only reward being progression through to the next level.
So, the game leads you into a false sense of control whilst randomly generating a ‘pay-out’ (candies, power-ups, or big drops of candies.) All of which leads to a squirt of dopamine and low and behold we are addicted.
It’s about time
Time also plays an important part in why many of us are so engrossed. In a casino setting, we lose and the restricting factor is money. We can leave the casino, make more money and come back. However, in Candy Crush, the limiting factor is time (which you can negotiate by paying). This makes it affordable enough for it not to be a big risk factor. It’s often forgotten about until your bill comes and you see the full extent of the addiction
If we decide not to pay, our anxiety levels rise and we are focused on the time restraint until we can try again and receive our dopamine fix. This exacerbates our ‘need’ to play by limiting our exposure and alerting us when it allows us to play again.
Candy Crush: The consequences
The core demographic playing is women between the ages of 21-54. Psychologist Professor Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University says that the worrying factor is that it’s a proven a hit with gamers and non-gamers alike. Plus, it’s making us more accustomed to the dopamine fix related to gambling.
This further epitomises my thoughts on tech addiction and how we interact with technology. We must try gain insights into our own behaviour. Who is in control? The game/technology or us? Sure, we can delete Candy Crush, but many of us are so addicted that we never question if there is something sinister lurking behind the colourful candies.
Another worrying factor is that game designers may use the same game mechanics in order to make their games more addictive. This exacerbates our learnt addictive behaviours, while asking for bigger pay-outs for more time or lives.
I Quit! How I Beat Candy Crush
My partner and I were engrossed in Candy Crush – often playing on the bus, tube, as we woke or went to sleep. One day, I was getting ready for work when I thought I’d have a quick go as I was running early for my train. As I was playing, I thought “Just one more go”. Next thing I knew, I had missed my train.
I had neglected myself so I could gain a little kick of dopamine before I started work. At that point, I took the plunge and deleted it there and then.
My partner stills plays and as much as it infuriates her, she still won’t quit.
I miss the spikes of dopamine and get the urge to re-download it, making every excuse as to why I should. I haven’t re-downloaded it yet.