Craving the crush

Zoe Dutton

Hunched over an iPhone, Alex Florent ’15 holds her breath as she swipes the rainbow bon-bon into a pair of red jellybeans. A second passes, then: “Sugar rush!” The screen explodes into a cacophony of brightly colored candy and fireworks. Flush with excitement, she exhales and eagerly moves on to the next level. The game is Candy Crush Saga, and Florent is a self-proclaimed addict, estimating that she plays 24 hours a week.

“I spend literally every moment of the day playing it,” Florent said. “I walk to class playing it. I play it while I eat. I just do it constantly.”

Since it was first launched as an app for mobile devices a little over a year ago, Candy Crush has been played over 152 billion times and is the first game ever to simultaneously reach No. 1 in downloads on iOS, Android and Facebook.

According to a Chronicle poll of 401 students, 39 percent play Candy Crush, and of those, over 40 percent devote more than a hour per week to it.
“Candy Crush is my therapy,” Florent, who is on level 346, said. “It’s the one thing I get to hold on to. I would be better off stopping, but I’d rather not.”

Though others agree that the game is habit-forming, they don’t believe it negatively impacts their life.
“I would call myself addicted,” Lydia Weber ’14 said. “I think I’m okay, though. Probably if I played anymore it would be bad, but I do it as a treat for myself.”

She estimated that she spends 30 minutes per day playing Candy Crush and is at level 176.

Natalie Lim ’15 said that the game also provides a source of stress relief.
“It definitely distracts me sometimes,” Lim said. “I don’t really wish I could [stop playing it] though. It doesn’t really waste my time. It’s entertaining.”

She is currently on level 374.

“My parents just think it’s a waste of time,” Lim said. “They play games on their phones though, mostly Asian things, like mahjong. Not as much [as I do], though.”

Oliver Sanderson’s ’15 parents don’t disapprove of Candy Crush; in fact, his mother plays it too.

“Oliver was on the couch playing it and I was like ‘What are you doing?’ And then: ‘I want some of that,’” Sanderson’s mother Mich Mathews-Sprandlin said, laughing. “It’s just nonsense fun.”

She had played game apps like Angry Birds and Ruzzle before, but never to the same degree as Candy Crush and said she grew bored with the others fairly quickly.

Experts say the game’s ability to maintain players’ interest is key to its success. According to a TIME magazine article, London-based software company King specifically designed the game to make it almost impossible to quit, using mathematical equations to balance the difficulty and achievability for maximum addictiveness. There are over 500 levels, and new ones are added every two weeks.

“The game developers have a very intelligent, sneaky way of designing it,” Sanderson said. “It was puzzling and you had to strategize and they would always make the challenges just barely out of reach, so you would just keep trying to beat it, and it was all the more gratifying when you finally won.”

While the game is free, after players use up five lives they must wait 30 minutes before the next round unless they are willing to pay. Think Gaming estimates that King makes $875,382 daily. In comparison, Angry Birds, another popular mobile game, takes in an estimated $6,381 each day.

“I have spent a lot of money on this game,” said Meredith* ’14. “I have no idea the exact amount. Probably like $200. I would not be surprised if it were around that.”

Meredith is on level 425 and spends at least three hours per week playing it.

Only 11 percent of Candy Crush players at Harvard-Westlake said they spend money on the game.

“I don’t generally pay money for it,” Florent said. “Though, one day I was super into it and spent like $20.”

Weber has found a trick to avoid the extra fees.

“I don’t pay money, but my sister taught me a cheat where you can change the date on your phone so you don’t have to pay for extra lives,” Weber said. “So I don’t pay, but I do get to keep playing.”

Despite the game’s addictiveness, some players have successfully undergone Candy Crush “withdrawal.”

“I am on a long-term hiatus from Candy Crush,” math teacher Bill Thill said. “I just got to a point where I hit level 95 and I tried it like a hundred times and it just became clear that I wasn’t going to succeed unless I was willing to waste my life. I chose my life over Candy Crush.”

*Names have been changed