While the hype of Candy Crush seems to have abated, there is no shortage of free game apps based on matching, switching, and connecting items by color or shape. While the American Psychiatric Association doesn’t classify these as addictive, there are a number of users that have “self-diagnosed” themselves as addicted. Why are such time-sucking games so intriguing?
Turns out, they’re built with long-term game play in mind.
- Gratification: Beating levels and accomplishing milestones in these games can release the brain chemical dopamine, the same chemical related to addiction and over-eating. As levels increase in difficulty, the dopamine “rush” gets more spaced out, creating the drive the keep playing in order to beat a level and get the next “rush”.
- Wait time: With a limited number of “lives”, you are forced to wait as your lost lives “regenerate”. Because there’s no simple restart, such as with a video game, you’ll eventually hit a regeneration period. Called “hedonic adaptation”, Harvard researchers studied how delaying someone’s gratification for something makes them enjoy it more when they can have it. The experiment concluded that prolonged breaks from chocolate made it more pleasurable for test subjects; Candy Crush operates on the same principal that waiting will make it more enjoyable when you can play again.
- Visual engagement: With bright colors, cartoonish characters, and food or jewel items for matching, games like Candy Crush maximize visual engagement. Sound effects, spoken praise for completing a difficult match, and upbeat music all aim to conjure the same “feel good” for our eyes that Candyland and LIFE created in board games.
- It’s an escape: By being mobile-friendly and requiring only one hand to play, Candy Crush and similar games are a quick way to check out from reality and immerse yourself in something amusing. Because Candy Crush can be played offline, it’s possible to spend incredible amounts of time playing it, even when you’re away from wifi.
Is there a danger to Candy Crush “addiction”? In addition from removing your focus from the moment, unintended and extensive game play can have some consequences. A survey by Ask Your Target Market found that “32% [of players] ignored friends or family to play the game, 28% played during work, 10% got into arguments with significant others over how long they played, and 30% said they were ‘addicted’.”
While these kinds of games are being tested as buffers for post-traumatic stress and cravings, there’s little proven gain for game time.
Limiting time on Candy Crush or other games will not only reduce your screen time, it will allow you to engage with the “real world” in productive, focused, and intentional ways. Set a timer, take a break from your phone when it’s charging, and eliminate game notifications to prevent getting sucked into beating the next level.