Candy Crush Addiction

While traveling on the tube to work I noticed the amount of people playing a puzzle game on their phone. Maybe 7 or 8 people all playing the same game, matching coloured gems together. Very odd I think, until I tell a friend and she says ‘Oh that’s candy crush’.

As the days go by I see more and more people playing this game. I ask my friends and everyone gives me the same answer ’You must play it is so addictive’. At this point something strikes me – why would I want to get addicted to a game? Crack is addictive but no one thinks it’s a good idea to try that; ok that’s a little flippant but I’m sure you catch my drift.

So I think, how addictive can it be? So I took the plunge and downloaded the (free) app from Play Store. Then things started to change.

What is Candy Crush?

To give a brief description you have to match 3 or more candies in a row to complete certain tasks (score related for example) to proceed to the next level. If you loose 3 lives you either have to wait for an allotted time to get more (the more you play the longer you have to wait), or pay for more lives (70p which is as much as a basic app). Now considering this is a free game from an outside perspective you may ask, why would you pay?

Once engrossed in the game however you can see exactly why you would pay.  In our rushed, ’I want it now’ lifestyle, we are not accustomed to waiting, especially when it comes to how we interact with technology, then you reason to yourself, ‘Oh ill 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 his or her lives had gone. It reminds me when I was young and the look I found my friends had when the last 2p had gone from their pocket while playing the money push machines on the pier.

What Makes Candy Crush Addictive?

What is it then that’s so engrossing about this game? I mean other games have been and gone but this seems to be catching on more than most while also making many spend money on virtual lives and power ups which are used in an instant and need to be bought again in a matter of hours, or even minutes.

The diagram above is a fantastic representation of why games are so addictive. If we take candy crush and put it in that diagram we can see that most, if not all, of the headings apply to the game. Its social, you have to be lucky and it’s unpredictable.

Ultimately there is some skill involved but much of the game is luck. This is an interesting subject to look at as it shows why many of us are addicted to candy crush, essentially at the mercy of the game. As good as we think we are at the game if it does not supply the right candies or power-ups you cannot beat the level and this is what makes the game so addictive.

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 pay out.

The early stages of candy crush rewards us for completing levels by giving us 3 stars (creating superstitions on our ability to control the outcome of the random 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.

Time, also plays an important part in why many of us are so engrossed in candy crush. 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, it’s limiting factor is time, which you can negotiate by paying.  Making it just affordable enough for it not to be a big risk factor and forgotten about until your bill comes and you see the full extent of the addiction

However 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 want or need to play by limiting our exposure and alerting us when it allows us to play again.

Candy Crush, The Consequences

Psychologist Prof Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University says that the worrying factor is now that it has been proven a hit with gamers and non-gamers alike (the core demographic it appeals to is women between the ages of 21-54)  and it is making us more accustomed to the dopamine fix related to gambling. psychologist

This further epitomises my thoughts on tech addiction and the need for us to look at how we interact with technology to gain insight into our own behaviour,  who is in control? The game/technology or us? We can delete candy crush but many of us are so engrossed and addicted we have succumb to its charms without ever questioning 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. Exacerbating our learnt addictive behaviour while asking for bigger pay-out’s for more time or lives.

 I Quit! How I Beat Candy Crush Saga (My Story)

So my partner and I were engrossed in Candy Crush, often playing on the bus, tube, as we woke or went to sleep, until 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. I was playing and I thought I’d have one more go. As I was playing, time had passed me by and I had actually missed my train without even leaving the house.

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 why I should but I have not relented…  Yet.


Philip Karahassan