I think often times about neurochemicals, biological imperatives, and addiction. We loves to consider ourselves autonomous beings with self-awareness, choice, and freedom. But so much of what we do and how we think comes from electric synapses in our brain and body that we don’t ever see or regulate. One impact of how our brains and biology relate to society is addiction. Addiction theories abound and are generally considered well understood. One text that really illuminated it for me was http://charlesduhigg.com/the-power-of-habit/ .
And although I perhaps ought to write a profound and revealing piece on why addiction piques my interests or confess to its role in my life, right now what intrigues me the most is: Candy Crush.
For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomenon that is Candy Crush, it is a game evolved from Tetris, as an app on phones or on facebook on a computer. Each level is mapped on a course similar to that of Candyland. Each level is a little different and is intended to be a little more difficult than the one before. The course is broken up into episodes, and each episode contains 15 levels. It appears to go into infinity. The designers of Candy Crush are experts in the study of addiction.
Candy Crush limits how much access you have to it so that you cannot get bored. It only provides the user with 5 lives. Once those lives are expired by trying to beat a level, a countdown pops up to show the user how long they will have to wait until they can play again. This creates a sensation of immediacy, like last call at a bar. Even if the drinkers know they have more liquor at home to imbibe, they order that one last drink. Anyone who has played Tetris or Bejeweled knows that there gets to be a certain point of saturation and the game is no longer interesting.
The Candy Crush user has ways to gain more lives: to pay for a set or to ask friends for more lives. The social aspect to Candy Crush is one of the pivotal aspects that makes it an addiction rather than just a game. Along the Candyland board it shows you were your friends, from Facebook, are in their journey. It gives the user a sense of camaraderie, a sense that they are not the only ones staying awake past bedtime to match more colored blocks. Every level completed shows the user their standing against that of friends who have already reached that level. It does not instigate competition. It instigates that sense that all the candy crushers are in it together, a fantasy world in which only together can we overcome the challenges. And all of a sudden you are asking girls from elementary school to give you some lives, so that you can continue to match colors on a screen, an act suitable only for elementary aged individuals. And then fifteen levels later, you land at the beginning of a new episode. The wait time to access that new episode can be days; unless you pay or of course, unless you ask more friends to help you. The familiar bartender, who serves up your perfect drink, right as you sit down. All the person had to do was show up, walk through that welcoming door, and satisfaction awaits.
And what happens when a person tries to end this dynamic – to stop drinking or to stop playing Candy Crush? It is not simply that one act that must change, rather it is a collection of acts that must be replaced. The drinker must find a new route that does not pass that bar. The player must erase the App from their phone, computer, and any other devices. Both must ask friends not to invite them to partake. Both must remind themselves what a waste of time it is, yet they struggle to find what to do with the extra free time. But the hardest part is reteaching the brain to not seek satisfaction in that way. So even against all good thinking, the subconscious can still drive the user back to the welcoming door, and why not, who does it really harm?