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Why Everyone Is Hooked on Candy Crush Saga

Combining social media appeal with a dopamine rush, "crushing candy" is tough to kick.

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By Bryan Le

06/04/13

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Chances are, you or someone you know is hooked on Candy Crush Sagaa match-three-in-a-row puzzle game for Facebook and smartphone that reportedly has millions of people hooked. Within just a few months, it's eclipsed all other Facebook games in popularity, and is played more than half a billion times a day on mobile alone, according to King, the game's creators. “When I first started, I played for a month straight, like all the time,” grad student and recovering Candy Crush addict Jennifer tells The Fix. “I played when I was supposed to watch TV, go to the bathroom, go to sleep—most people have to pass a level before they go to bed.” But why is the game so addictive? In part, it starts off easy, but quickly reaches challenging levels. Says Jennifer: “They made it look easy and you were always 'close' to winning, so you wanted to keep on trying until you beat that level.” Heather Kikorian, an assistant professor of psychology, says Candy Crush is designed to get you hooked, and specific parts of the game where you see success, like beating a level, can create a "pleasure response" and triggering dopamine in the brain. And social media games combine addictive gaming with the 21st Century narcotic—smartphones and Facebook. The social and competitive element makes them even harder to put down.

But what about the devastating comedown when you run out of "lives" and have to stop playing? To delay this inevitable withdrawal, some players have learned to trick the system into giving them more "lives." Jennifer tells us she figured out how to prolong her playing by turning her smartphone's clock forward, and her mom hoards extra lives by not opening her inbox. Another way to get extra lives is to buy them—which one woman says cost her $40. Though Jennifer is now two months clean from this social media game, she may well fall victim to the next one. Scott Steinberg, author of Video Game Marketing and PR, says turnover with these addictive games is high: “With attention spans shortening and so many alternatives so readily available, players tend to move on to the next big game quickly."

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