Candy Crush Saga – harmless fun or road to addiction?

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With an income of £400,000 a day for publisher King, ScreenRobot considers the addictive and potentially damaging aspects of Candy Crush Saga

My first exposure to Candy Crush Saga was, rather predictably, via Facebook. A friend of mine, whom we shall now refer to as Candy Crack addict #1, had taken to her Facebook wall to ask players for a life. An extra life that is.

Candy Crush Saga is a ‘free-to-play’ game. With an emphasis on those inverted commas. Free-to-play games are titles which deliver X amount of content for free, whilst locking Y behind a pay wall.  In Candy Crush, extra lives are recouped over the passage of real world time, by imploring your online friends to gift you one or by simply handing over your credit card details.

Candy Crack addict #1 had not reached the point of no return, that is, the point at which the phrase “it’s just another 69p” had entered vernacular rotation. Instead, addict #1 implored her Facebook friends, myself among them, to give her a life.

“I think it is something you have to do for yourself,” I replied.

Apparently, I didn’t understand.

And you know, I really didn’t, and as a result I now have one less Facebook friend.

Candy Crush is, according to the Daily Mail, “the most addictive online game ever,” and has “millions of people in its grip”

The Mail Online reports on Candy Crush Saga with its typical penchant for hyperbole. Candy Crush is, according to the online newspaper, “the most addictive online game ever,” and has “millions of people in its grip”.

The article, filed under the site’s patronisingly named Femail stub, goes on to highlight cautionary tales of women in thrall to the game. Steph Brophy is another Candy Crush addict who is “already losing sleep over it.” Whilst Jenni Weaver is “playing it for eight hours a day now and it’s become a real problem”. If violent videogames are the root cause of many instances of real life violence, one wonders what real life behaviours the Mail  believes Candy Crush could be the cause of.

Perhaps women in the key 25-55 demographic will begin constructing towers made of household sundries and attempt to collapse them by matching three of the same kind of fruit together. Will we see Candy Crush replicated in mashed potato form by some particularly disturbed woman who sees collapsing fruit behind her eyes when she closes them?

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Not content to say that videogames are destroying our nation’s youth, mainstream media asserts that videogames are damaging the hordes of mature, intelligent women playing Candy Crush. Are videogames the problem or does Candy Crush addiction highlight deeper societal issues?

The Mail article includes expert opinion from Prof. Mark Griffiths who says games like Candy Crush can lead to addiction and can be the first step on a path towards gambling. “Even when games do not involve money, they introduce players to the principles and excitement of gambling. Small, unpredictable rewards lead to highly engaged, repetitive behaviour. In a minority, this may lead to addiction.”

Does the assertion that games such as Candy Crush Saga “can be an insidious route to more serious gambling problems” ring true?

Carly Kocurek, professor of Digital Humanities at the Illinois Institue of Technology told MotherJones, “I think that the discussion of media forms – particularly games – as some kind of serious social problem is often an attempt to kind of corral and solve what is a much broader social issue.”

Videogames are not the problem so much as human nature and behaviour patterns. Parallel to the upwards trajectory of videogames, the rise and rise of Web 2.0 has allowed for the murkier sides of human nature to become infinitely more visible – see the ubiquity of trolling, pornography and piracy. Like the internet, the increasing popularity and accessibility of the videogame form means that those facets of human behaviour we see as undesirable are present in greater density. Play Call of Duty online in the early hours of the morning, Google “videogame porn” or see the inflated real world prices of in-game items on Ebay and see for yourself .

That said, we are looking at relative extremes of behaviour and even without the easy access of videogames or Web 2.0, there have always been people who do any given thing to excess.

But is an addiction to Candy Crush Saga a problem unto itself or is it emblematic of an existing societal issue?

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The Office of Fair Trading recently published guidelines for free-to-play games following claims that grossly overpriced in-app-purchases targeted children.

The OFT’s investigation into free-to-play games was concerned that there was “a general lack of transparent, accurate and clear upfront information about costs and other information that may impact on the consumer’s decision to play, download or sign up to a game.”

Whilst the OFT report highlights a need for further care from videogame publishers, the positioning of videogames as the cause of tragedies such as the recent Washington Navy Yard shooting link is narrow-minded scapegoat journalism. But just as prohibition did not stop people drinking, the derision of videogames in mainstream media will not stop people playing.

Consider statements from prominent female game critics that, in spite of what they perceived as misogynistic elements of GTA 5, they would not stop playing because the game was “too much damn fun.”

Jenni Weaver tells the Mail that she has “burnt countless dinners and let vegetables boil dry because I’ve been engrossed. I’m trying to limit myself, but I can still spend eight hours a day playing it. It’s ridiculous.”

Causing women to abandon the kitchen and forsake gender roles assigned to them by a dominant patriarchal hegemony – is there a possibility that feminist discourse runs through the core of Candy Crush Saga?

Let’s be honest, probably not, but then you’d have to pay 69p to find out. Pay to win indeed.

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