It seems like half the people I know play Candy Crush Saga. I base this on the insane number of Facebook invites I've gotten and the look of manic glee in their eyes when the addictive candy-based puzzle game comes up in conversation. It's a fun little puzzle game, for sure, but it has also unexpectedly taught me several life lessons.
5. Addiction takes many forms.
One of those forms manifests in the relentless candy matching game play of Candy Crush. Forget the schmaltzy music that accompanies this game; the soundtrack should be a continuous loop of "Sister Morphine" or "Waiting on the Man," because the dead look in your eyes a few weeks after Candy Crush gets its hooks in you is one more often associated with serious drug addiction. It starts off innocently enough. You download the game for free, and its cute but fun gameplay goes along well for maybe ten or 15 levels before you hit the first difficult one. Maybe you have to replay it a time or two, and then you move on, happy to have bested the challenge.
Soon, though, those challenging levels often turn into what I think of as "Total Bastard" levels where a person might get stuck for days at a time. That's when you suddenly realize that you're addicted to this sinister candy game, because like a drug pusher, it offers to buy more lives and more time (with real money, of course) or to buy game bonuses that will help you finish the Bastard levels and move further along the game. I get it; game companies need to make money, but this type of luring a person along reminds me of the Junior High warnings of drug dealers that would give a kid a few pills for free, the first time.
4. There's a sucker born every minute. Sometimes that sucker is you. Pretty quickly after I'd been stumped for a week by one of the Total Bastard levels of Candy Crush, those pay-to-play offers started sounding compelling. Would I like to buy five more moves for 99 cents? I don't know...sounds a little expensi...Yes!
And I'd have to catch myself before I'd okay a purchase that might allow me to complete the level. It's easy to see how the game earned 1.5 billion...yes, BILLION, dollars in 2013 alone. It really is a masterfully designed way to suck money out of people's pockets disguised as a cutesy "free" video game. Similar puzzle games have been around for decades, but the way Candy Crush lures people in, ensnares them and then shakes the pennies out of their pockets is brilliant.
But it works only if you let it. I know people who have been playing since the game came out and who are hundreds of levels in, but who have never paid a dime for it. And of course, not everyone paying a few bucks for some candy-smashing hammer bonus is a "sucker," but the game does seem to prey on some people's tendency to get personally invested in its gameplay.
That's why it's also taught me...
3. Sometimes it's best to just walk away.
We all encounter challenges in life, and sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away for awhile and try to come back later, refreshed and hopefully in a better state of mind.
Candy Crush has certainly taught me that lesson. Sometimes after being stuck on a horribly difficult level and running out of lives, I'll be tempted to spend a buck to continue, but fortunately, I just tend to walk away; there's usually a better way for me to be spending my idle time than considering feeding real money into a game so I can (hopefully) get further. Sometimes a temporary retreat is better, in life as in Candy Crush.
2. Expected outcomes don't always come to pass, and luck is more important than skill. This lesson really has more to do with Candy Crush's gameplay than its pocketbook-raiding business model. I don't doubt that there are folks out there who are really naturally good at the game. Maybe they see patterns that others don't, and that helps them to win levels more easily. I guess that's possible. Seems like no matter what the activity is, there are always a handful of "naturals" who excel at it.
But for ME, and also from talking to other people who play the game, I've come to the conclusion that a huge part of winning at Candy Crush is pure luck. Sometimes it almost seems like I'm playing a slot machine, and the results are mostly calculated by some unseen set of probabilities. Oh, I only have 15 moves to make four cherries fall from the bottom of the screen? Seems easy enough. Then, after playing that level for three days, you start to believe it's impossible, no one has ever passed it and you certainly never will, until you accidentally win without even looking at the screen. This really happened to me, while I was talking to a friend. I wasn't paying attention, just talking and sort of half playing the game at the same time, when I suddenly won a Total Bastard level I'd been stuck on for at least a week.
Take that, skill! Obviously you're not an ally to me, but dumb blind luck works, too!
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1. Recreation should be fun, not frustrating.
Seriously, this is something that can be applied to most video games, and to a lot of other hobbies, too. If a pastime ceases to be fun, or becomes more frustrating than rewarding, why continue? My job and personal life give me plenty of challenging moments of the non-fun variety, so why invite more of that into my head? Now, don't get me wrong, I still enjoy playing Candy Crush; I just stick to a few simple rules, including never paying to continue playing and just taking breaks from it when it becomes a hassle.
But the second I find my blood pressure rising and me feeling pissed off at a cute candy matching game, that's when I just go outside, take a ride on my motorcycle, play with my dogs or spend my time doing anything but playing that silly game. Sometimes I have to remind myself that we each shape our own reality to a large degree, and when something isn't fun anymore, it's okay to move on to more rewarding things.
Of course, the game always waits. It's got all the time in the world, and like any other addiction, it'll gladly welcome a person back into its sweet, candy-shaped, mind-crushing thrall.