How Did I Get Stuck in The Chocolate Mountains?

Are you hooked on the Candy Crush Saga?  Have you been swimming in the Lemonade Lake?

Hey, it's Chris!

Hey, look it’s Chris!

Recently, my friend Chris St. Clair completed her schooling to become a Nurse Practitioner (Congrats, Chris!).  She also made a rare trip to Seattle before starting a new job.  With an opportunity for free medical advice, I asked about an ache in my hands, which she suggested might be tendinitis.  And when I wondered how this happened to me, she pointed at my phone.

I’m now serious about learning how iPhone use causes repetitive stress injury.  One article in the Huffington Post calls the condition, “Text Claw,” which describes how my fingers sometimes feel.  I should have caught this earlier, because I’m usually cradling my phone.  I even read most of my books on the Kindle’s iPhone app.  But lately, I’d also started playing Candy Crush, a lot.

I’m currently between jobs, which can be good for an aspiring author.  It’s an option to write during the daylight hours of the week.  But last Friday, when I was supposed to be editing the Next Great Thriller, I was jolted by an alarm on my phone.  It was time to feed the parking meter outside – after two hours.  I hadn’t even opened my Mac.

Candy_Crush_from_Facebook

Copied from the Candy Crush Saga page on Facebook

What the Fudge Islands?  I’d been playing Candy Crush the entire time, probably mouthing the word, “Tasty” as it flashed across the screen.

I know I can be a little obsessive at times.  There are days when I’m writing that I forget to eat (until later, of course).  But, why was I zoning out so hard to Candy Crush?  Why did I play until my hands hurt and little red jellies haunted me before sleep.  And why would I avoid something I love (writing) for the silly rush of a “Sugar Crush?”

There’s an article in The Guardian by Dana Smith (@smithdanag) titled, “This is what Candy Crush Saga does to your brain.”  It’s fascinating and I took away a couple key points:

First, I’m not alone in my obsession.  According to Smith, some half a billion players have downloaded the “free” app.  An estimated 93 million of us play it every day. (The latter number seems to vary, depending on the source.)  

Second, play is limited.  After loosing so many times, the player is put on a time out, which only leaves them wanting more.

Third, this game is designed to enslave.  Candy Crush is simple, winnable.  It attracts us with bright and pretty colors.  And as Smith notes, our brains release dopamine with each win, reinforcing gameplay and fueling a need to binge.  Apparently, because we primarily lose, the game becomes enticing, a similar concept that keeps slot machine gamblers in their seats.

It’s no wonder I’d become hooked.

Photo copied from the King page on Facebook

Photo copied from the King page on Facebook

As with slot machines, Candy Crush can nickel and dime the player.  Theoretically you can avoid paying, but the game often protects one or two jellies, preventing success.  As frustration builds, a process as smooth as carmel sells the player more “lives” or boosters to supposedly help win.

I didn’t buy too many color bombs while Crushing, but the cost of boosters adds up.  The company behind Candy Crush, King Digital Entertainment, reported “mobile gross bookings of $480 million in just the first quarter of 2014.”  Candy Crush Saga accounted for 67 percent of gross bookings for the first quarter of 2014.  That’s a lot of jam from those digital jellies.

There’s more in Smith’s article and I’m convinced enough to stop.  I’ve decided to look at Candy Crush as a “Threshold Guardian.” In the literary world, that’s an obstacle crafted to test a hero’s resolve to complete their task.  To make sure my own real life journey continued, I had to say goodbye to the adventure of the Chocolate Mountains and delete the app.

I realize the game is still lurking nearby, a keystroke away on the web.  But if I’m lucky, the memory will dissolve like sugar in my mouth.  Especially if I can avoid people who, like the game, keep shouting, “Sweet!”

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