A Closer Look at Our Sweet Tooth: Candy Crush, Society, and Addiction

Candy Crush Saga
Source: play.google.com

I don’t tell a lot of people this, but I have been in a very serious relationship for the past year. This relationship is pretty relaxed. We both see other people, but it seems like at the end of every day we end up together. Her name? Candy. Candy Crush.

All joking aside, I have been playing the hit game Candy Crush Saga, a product of King Digital Entertainment plc, on my phone for almost a year now. I cannot deny that I am drawn towards playing this game. No matter hard I try, I just can’t give it up. And I’m not the only one.  Young, old, male, or female, we all love it. Even celebrities like Jimmy Fallon and Mandy Patinkin play it.

According to the Huffington PostCandy Crush is played by 93 million people per day. It has dominated the mobile game charts since its release in 2012, but why? What makes Candy Crush so addicting? In his 1975 publication titled Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, Russian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi theorized that for any form of multimedia to be addictive it must have what he called ‘flow.’ All game designers hope that their creations will have the necessary components to achieve flow, but that hardly ever happens. Candy Crush Saga, however, is the rare exception. By applying Csikszentmihlyi’s theory to the game’s seemingly simple design, you will soon understand why so many are hooked on the game.

Csikszentmihalyi said that four conditions must be met in order for multimedia to achieve flow. The first of these is that the level of difficulty must be equal to the skill level of those who play it. Candy Crush meets this condition. I mean, why would a person play a game that is no challenge? The levels in Candy Crush get increasingly harder, and as the difficulty increases, so does the desire to win. Every time we beat a levelour brains releases a neurochemical called dopamine, which we experience as pleasure. The promise of even greater pleasures keeps us playing.

Capturing Csikszentmihalyi's (above) 'flow' is difficult, but Candy Crush Saga seems to have it in the bag. Source: Ted.com
Capturing Csikszentmihalyi’s (above) ‘flow’ is difficult, but Candy Crush Saga seems to have it in the bag.
Source: Ted.com

The second condition to achieve flow is that the game must have clear objectives. Whether we’re at work at or school, we like having our tasks presented us in clear and concise manners. Candy Crush also achieves at this. At the beginning of each level, we are told exactly what we need to do. “Eliminate all the jellies in sixty seconds.” Sure, Candy Crush, no problem. Each level’s objectives remain in sight throughout gameplay, almost whispering to us how close we are to winning. When we lose, we remember how close we were. So what do we do? We play again.

Candy Crush is always providing feedback, Csikszentmihalyi’s third condition for ‘flow.’ Whether it is the point total that appears on screen for every move you make, the deep, jolly voice telling you how “delicious” your move was, or seeing (or not seeing) your name among your Facebook friends on a list of high scores, the game is always providing valuable feedback. Feedback keeps us coming back.

Candy Crush also has the ability to make people lose their self-consciousness, which Csikszentmihalyi would argue is vital to attaining flow. People get so absorbed by the game that it is all they focus on. Just take it from this poor guy:

If that isn’t enough, how about this?

There have even been reports of parents forgetting to pick up their young children at school because they were too focused on getting to the “Caramel Cove.” On top of meeting the four conditions, the game’s music is relaxing and even a bit hypnotizing (see below), the characters are fun, and the overall concept is extremely simple. There is no doubt that the designers nailed it when they created Candy Crush.  And now they are reaping the rewards.

Because of Candy Crush, which generates about 80 percent of King Digital Entertainment’s profit, King is the one of the top casual-social gaming companies in the world. In fact, having generated so much profit and hype in 2013, King decided to file for an IPO in early 2014. When the company debuted on Wall Street on March 26th, 2014, it was priced at $22.50 a stock. At that rate King was worth about $7.6 billion as a company. However, per Yahoo! Finance, its selling price has dropped in the month that it has been on Wall Street, going from $22.50 to $17.15. This decline in price also decreased the company’s worth to about $5.4 billion. King’s apparent flop on Wall Street is largely due to investors’ feelings that its main source of income, Candy Crush, is a one-hit wonder that will soon fade away. Regardless of if their feelings are accurate or not, one thing remains absolutely true: Candy Crush has made an unprecedented impact on society that will not soon be forgotten, especially by those who have found themselves “addicted” to the game.


An addiction to Candy Crush hasn’t been acknowledged by psychologists…at least not yet. But after hearing the testimony of players like Augie in the podcast (above), I would be willing to bet that the game has legitimate addictive effects. While most players are able to play the game without it interfering with their lives, there are some who simply cannot, and that is truly saddening. Candy Crush is the ultimate scheme when it comes to games. We think we are playing it, but in reality the game is playing us.



Works Cited:

Candy Crush. Digital image. Candy Crush Saga. Google Play, 16 Apr. 2014. Web. 02 May 2014.

Casti, Taylor. “There Are More People Playing ‘Candy Crush’ Than There Are People Living In Australia (MAP).” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 May 2014.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1975. Print.

“King Digital Entertainment Plc.” Yahoo! Finance. Yahoo!, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Portrait. Photograph. n.d. Ted. Ted, Web. 02 May. 2014.

P E D R O, (luckybastarrd). “I just miss two trains because I was playing candy crush saga. Shit I’m gonna be late for work now.” 25 Apr. 2014, 12:27 a.m. Tweet.

Phatsounds1. “Candy Crush Saga theme music.” 2013. MP3.

Surowiecki, James. “One-hit Wonders.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.

Thompson, Derek. “Candy Crush: Addictive Game, Incredible Business, Horrible Investment.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 02 May 2014.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. “Mandy Patinkin Teaches Jimmy Fallon “Candy Crush” (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon).” Online video clip. YouTube. Youtube, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 02 May 2014.




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