By Steve Dorfman
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.: Felicia Levine wanted to know what all the fuss was about.
A few months back, Levine — the editor of the Boca Raton Observer lifestyle magazine, as well as a licensed clinical therapist — began receiving repeated Facebook updates from friends about how they’d reached the next level of Candy Crush.
“I had no clue what Candy Crush was,” she says.
One day shortly thereafter, she was out with a few girlfriends and remembers that “the conversation among my friends was about how they were all spending so much time playing this Candy Crush game on their cellphones that their husbands had started complaining about it.”
Levine’s clinical instincts kicked in: “I’ve counseled enough clients with compulsive-personality issues to recognize the early red flags.”
That night, with her live-in boyfriend Paul out for the evening, curiosity got the better of the 48-year-old Deerfield Beach, Fla., resident. After all, how alluring could this video game really be? So she signed up and started playing.
Several hours later, she recalls, “Paul told me that when he came home and said, ‘Hey, honey!’ I didn’t respond — because I was still playing and didn’t even notice he’d walked into the room!”
Introduced in 2012, Candy Crush Saga has quickly become the Internet’s most popular “casual” video game.
Designed for a female-targeted audience, the rules, format and goals are similar to previous casual-gaming iterations, such as Bejeweled and Tetris. You can play free at Facebook and/or as an app.
According to AppData, around 45 million people play it monthly in some form; on Facebook, some 16 million users play monthly — making it the social media site’s most popular game ever. It’s the most-downloaded, and top-grossing, app on both Apple and Android smartphones.
Featuring a variety of colorful “candy” lined up on a grid, the game is, essentially, a series of increasingly challenging puzzles to solve.
However, the basic tenets and ultimate objective never change: On each level, you’re allowed to make a certain number of “moves” in order to line up three identical candies in a row. Once that’s achieved, the candies are “crushed” (disappear from the screen) and a new set appears. Thus, you’ve ascended a “level.” (Congratulations!)
Described on Slate.com by an amusingly shamed confessor as “simultaneously simple and satanic,” Candy Crush lets players experience an initial rush of success that becomes more difficult to attain.
“The variable ‘reward schedule’ of a nonrepetitive game keeps players engaged, so they’re continually chasing the next win or challenge,” explains West Palm Beach licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Rachel Needle. “I hesitate to call it ‘addictive,’ but there’s definitely the potential for compulsive and/or excessive usage.”
Especially when ego and competitiveness are thrown into the mix. For Facebook users, your progress can automatically be sent in updates to your friends (as well as fellow Candy Crushers you probably don’t even know, so you can see how you measure up).
What’s especially insidious, though, is the so-called “freemium” aspect. Yes, the game is free to download/play. You get five “lives” at the outset. But if, in your quest(s) to ascend to the next of the 400 levels, you lose those five lives, then you’re kicked out of the game for 30 minutes.
However, a mere 99 cents buys you more lives, and lets you bypass the forced hiatus. Other pricing structures let you purchase more “moves.”
So, theoretically, yes, it is possible to play Candy Crush for free. Just as, theoretically, it’s possible to eat one — and only one — M&M when you open a bag.
But spending a few (or a few dozen) discretionary dollars on a pastime whose reward is simply pride won’t impact most people’s financial well-being.
However, cautions Needle, “When this — or any — online activity becomes excessive, and removes you mentally from what’s physically around you, that’s when it can begin to interfere with your real-life relationships.”
So if you possess the type of personality that might make it hard to keep the game in perspective, your only winning move with Candy Crush might be not to play.