The first step to overcoming any problem is to admit there is a problem. Well, I had a problem. A sweet, sugary, candy-coated problem.
Before you ask, no, I'm not talking about real, edible candy. The candy I'm talking about is fake - computer generated. I'm talking about the loads and loads of candy in the popular Candy Crush game.
If you've got a smart phone and a Facebook account, you've heard of Candy Crush, even if you don't play it. The game was first introduced as a Facebook computer game, and then its variant, Candy Crush Saga, was introduced as an app for smart phones. For those of you who aren't familiar with the game (consider yourselves lucky), in its simplest form, it's a matching game. Match rows of three or more similar candies to create a chain reaction, score points and clear puzzle boards. While you're "crushing candies," a sweet-sounding song plays in the background and colorful, child-like graphics greet you at every turn.
Aww, sounds so sweet and simple, right?
Unfortunately, these sweet and simple concepts, graphics and music are meant to suck you in. The first several levels are pretty easy, and it doesn't take long to get hooked. However, as you advance, each level gets progressively harder. You only have five lives at any one time - failing to clear a level costs you one life. Once you use up all your lives (which can go quickly on the upper levels and difficult boards), you are forced to wait 30 minutes for your next life. If you want a full slate of five lives again, it will take two hours and 30 minutes.
Of course, you can always bother your friends for lives - the game even prompts you to send them requests. It costs them nothing to comply, and it's an easy click to send a friend a life if you play the game regularly. But if you're not a regular player, getting continual requests on Facebook can become extremely annoying.
If you don't want to bother your friends, you can get more lives the old fashioned way - by buying them with actual money. A fresh set of lives costs 99 cents. Five extra moves will also cost you 99 cents. You can also buy special "boosters" like a candy hammer to crush a candy, or a paint brush that will paint stripes on one candy per game. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the paint brush and the booster cost $39.99! For a "free" game? That's absolutely insane!
Sooner or later, though, you will have to bother your friends to help you if you don't want to spend money. After completing a specific set of levels, you'll find that you can't advance to the next series of levels until three of your friends "unlock" the episode for you. This requires you to send requests to all your Facebook friends. Again, it's free for your friends to help you, but if they play sparingly, there again you go bombing their newsfeed with annoying game requests.
Of course, you can also buy your way into the next episode if you still insist on keeping your friends out of it. 99 cents, please! But 99 cents here, 99 there, and, assuming you keep making these "small" purchases several times a week over the course of a month, the cost can add up. Is it any wonder why, according to an article on appadvice.com in July, Candy Crush Saga - a supposedly free app - generated $633,000 in revenue a DAY?
Do a quick Google search for Candy Crush Saga. You'll find things from tips, cheats, message boards, blogs, merchandise - the world is crazy for candy! But you'll also find blogs and articles of a "confessional" type, with authors admitting to spending hundreds of dollars on in-app purchases while playing Candy Crush. In addition, some web sites offer "cheats" to help you hack in and get more lives - one of which involves changing the time zone on your smart phone, pretty much rendering your mobile device useless to receiving calls or texts. Oh well - as long as you can play Candy Crush for a few more hours, right?
But why do people spend so much time and money on this game? I've seen articles with stock photos comparing the game's horribly addictive nature to a drug addiction. Article after article laments, "I spent X dollars on Candy Crush!" or "I can't stop playing Candy Crush!"
Candy Crush for smart phones has 425 levels. I've been playing since spring and I barely cracked through one-third of those levels. Some levels are easy, some are moderately difficult, and some are so impossible you almost HAVE to buy a booster out of frustration just to finish a level. Although I hate to admit it, I have bought extra moves a few times just because, not surprisingly, I'd run out of moves about one or two more moves away from clearing the board. Gee, I wonder why THAT happened?
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this game is that it's mostly based on luck, not skill. If the board sets up in your favor, you should have no problem clearing it. But you have no control over how the candies regenerate at the top of the board, and even a good set up can quickly go bad.
I got stuck on a level for about three or four weeks over the summer. I played every day, several times a day, and still couldn't beat it without finally breaking down and buying an extra moves booster. How is it possible to play a board that many times and keep losing?
Last weekend, I realized I'd been stuck on my current level for five weeks. Day after day, I played the same board over and over. My frustration grew. I'd get close sometimes, which only frustrated me more. The background music started making me hostile. That stupid ponytailed character girl crying her fake tears when I failed the level time after time grated on me. I thought games were supposed to be relaxing? Challenging, OK. Impossible, no.
Last Sunday evening, I sat down and, with my set of five lives plus another 35 I'd saved up from friends, I had one goal in mind: use up all the lives trying to beat that dreaded level. Once I went through all of my lives, if I failed, I was finished with the game forever.
So I wasted well over an hour, maybe an hour and a half, playing the same stupid board over and over. And over and over. That was 90 minutes of my life I will never get back.
My eyes started to blur. My wrist hurt. About halfway through my marathon, I realized how much I hated the game. Even if I was successful in clearing the level, I vowed to end my addiction to this silly game once and for all.
You'd think, if it were truly a game of skill, 40 tries over a 90 minute period would be enough to crack the level. It wasn't. Even after spending all that time and effort, I didn't pass the level. So I closed the app and deleted it. My iPhone warned me, "Deleting the app will also delete its contents." If I could have hit continue 10 times without breaking my phone, I would have.
And just like that, it was over. Candy Crush Saga was gone from my phone and from my life for good.
I still play a few other games on my phone, but they're much more my speed - some super easy, some that requires thinking, but none that raise my ire like this seemingly harmless game with sweet songs, delicious sound effects and childish graphics.
I shared my triumph over deleting the game with my friends on Facebook, many of whom echoed the same sentiment: "I should quit too." Perhaps my friend Sandy said it best when she replied, "This is starting to sound like Candy Crush Anonymous."
I'm pretty sure there's a support group out there somewhere.