Oh Lord! My CANDY just got CRUSHED!


A couple of days back a dear friend was complimenting me on the wide range of topics that we write about on Drishti. She suddenly declared that an article on the world famous ‘Candy Crush Saga’ game was in order; and that I should write about it, given the way people got addicted to it and kept sending innumerous requests for ‘lives’ on Facebook. In the beginning I dismissed the thought, obviously thinking “how frivolous a topic it is, will I write on such crap now?!” But it was good food for thought nonetheless. Later when I sat with my pen and paper thinking ‘what next’, it occurred to me that it was indeed a worthy topic to discuss. Being a Human Resource professional and an ardent fan of behavioural sciences, I knew the designers of Candy Crush were playing up on the various facets of human behaviour and using it to their benefit.

I caught the Candy Crush fever very late. Almost when it had become a ‘stale’ talk of the town! Coming from a gaming family business background, games on the computer and various applications didn’t interest me much. Since my childhood days, I was part of the development of real life video games which were developed for the video game parlours; so games like Candy Crush were too kiddish. It so happened that my little niece was hospitalised and we went to visit her. As usual along with her soft toys her, her tablet was also with her and she was playing Candy Crush. Both my nieces have been tech-savvy since they were 2 years old and have taught me a trick or two on my blackberry and tabs every once in a while. Since my niece was so engrossed, I asked her to teach me as well. She willingly did, always ready to show-off her newly acquired tech skills. I started playing, and played and played and played for the next two hours that we were in the hospital room with her, and reluctantly let go when we had to leave. I also had a mind to borrow her tab so I could play on my way back home, but, never mind I thought.

I reached home and downloaded it on my IPad. Crazy, huh?! Well, that’s how addictive it was. I couldn’t resist! And once I started playing, there was no looking back. The unfortunate part was – there were only five lives (read: chances/ losses). If you were on a winning streak, you could go on forever, but if you lost you only had five chances to go until the next time slot of 2 – 3 hours, where all 5 lives would be replenished. Now that was something. I realised I kept watching the clock tick the hours away to know that the lives had been replenished and I could pick up the IPad again, only to lose some more lives. And it went on… to the second episode, and the third and the fourth. Ofcourse, I got stuck in many games, and persevered. I learnt new things about myself. My level of perseverance, tolerance and stickiness had gone up quite a few notches. Then there came a time, where I was stuck on one level for nearly two weeks. It made me so restless that I considered deleting the app from the tab. But do I look like a quitter? No way! This made me learn another important trait in me. I actually paid monies to buy some gold bars to help me buy some extra moves to complete the level where I was stuck. Now, this was new. I could never have dreamt of using my credit card to buy fake gold bars to play Candy Crush!!!! Well, by now I was addicted and obsessed. I had to get to the next game, next level, next episode and the thrill had to continue. I learnt some brilliant moves ‘on the job’; and my nieces taught me a few tricks too. I became a pro at it.

First, people at home thought I was deeply engrossed in some office work and didn’t disturb me. But later, after my father took a sneak peek at the IPad while I was relentlessly at it, he realised what I was up to and you should have seen the look on his face. His dear daughter who would not waste a minute on frivolous activities and would be seen reading instead of eating, having fun, watching TV etc., was stuck with a silly game app? He frowned and said nothing; and yet his expression said a lot. In good time I realised how I was vegetating alongwith my IPad, which had now been reduced to a mere gaming machine. Wonder what Steve Jobs would think of it?! It took a great deal of effort to get out of the vicious habit and finally I got rid of it. The game still exists on the IPad and I do play once in a while, but now I rule the game, the game doesn’t rule me.

Leaving the vicious game was tough, now it doesnt rule me, I rule it. #CandyCrush #Gaming Click To Tweet

So when my friend spoke about doing a write-up on Candy Crush, it made me introspect my own behaviour towards the game and what psychological factors were being used to get people addicted to it. Here’s my list:

  1. Simplicity thy name is Candy Crush: The premise of Candy Crush is so basic that even a pre-schooler can try his hand at it and be on seventh heaven with every new level crossed.
  2. Sense of Achievement: It feels good when one good thing leads to another and we love it when we hit a jackpot of combo moves (like ‘sweet’, ‘tasty’, ‘divine’ etc.,). Keeps the adrenaline pumping!
  3. Sugary addiction: The accomplishments in the game are experienced as mini rewards in our brains, releasing the neurochemical dopamine and tapping into the same neuro-circuitry involved in addiction, thus reinforcing our actions. Despite its reputation as a pleasure chemical, dopamine also plays a crucial role in learning, cementing our behaviours and training us to continue performing them. In short, addiction!
  4. The Winning Streak: We humans dislike losing and love winning all the time. If the game didn’t have a time-out when one lost continuously, players would be bored of losing for long and would never go back to play. But the will to win, keeps you going back for more. As we play, the game gets harder, the wins (and those bursts of dopamine) becoming more intermittent.
  5. Change is the Only Constant: Much that we resist change; we don’t like to play a static game and hence love the change in the game. Moving to higher levels, new games, new difficulties, it’s all fabulous while playing.
  6. Competition, oh! How sweet art thou: We love winning and being ahead in the competition against our friends and family. Candy crush has social integration which makes it a social competition. Users can post their scores on Facebook and show-off!
  7. Oh Luck, how predictive you are!: Despite what the developers of the game claim, Candy Crush is essentially a game of luck, your success depends on the array of colours you have randomly been given rather than your swiping skills. This makes the reward schedule become unexpected. We tend to lose more often than we win and we never know when the next triumph will come. This actually makes the game even more enticing than if we won easily, rather than discouraging us.
  8. I love to be in control: The game gives the impression that we are in control and that is key to its addictive nature, just like it is vital while playing a slot machine (and no wonder I also spent money!). The illusion of control instils a feeling of skill or a sense of control.

These are just a few and there are many more. It isn’t a wonder why Candy Crush Saga, the mind-numbingly simple yet addictive game that involves matching coloured sweets is estimated to be worth nearly $6bn, is played by nearly 93 million people every day and accrues an estimated $800,000 daily through people purchasing new lives and boosters that help conquer new levels, finally leaving them with a feeling of control and bliss.

Happy Crushing folks!

Image Source: Flickr

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