It started with my mom. She was in town visiting and looking for a game to play on her new Kindle. She’s in her mid-60s and her doctor told her that at her age she should play games to keep her mind stimulated. The last time she visited it was crossword puzzles. This time it was Candy Crush.
She stumbled onto the game after first finding Bejeweled. She liked the game enough to play rather consistently, but there were no real sparks. Not like when she discovered Candy Crush. I saw her coming to life when she played, saying things like, “Ooh, this game is fun! You should try it!” She was always excited about the fish, which meant that she was passing on to the next level.
“Here they come!” she’d shout to my daughter, who’d run over to see them swim across the screen. It became their little thing.
Then I saw her disconnecting. Sitting in the chair with her Kindle giving half answers. “Hunh?” became common. Then screaming that they had locked her out again. See, they only give you five chances to make it to the next level and when you don’t, they have a system that puts you in time-out. It can last anywhere from a couple to 30 minutes. During that time you cannot play. But as soon as her probation was up she was right back at it, lying in her bed at night, in the early morning, and throughout the day. All the time, really. And most of her conversations revolved around Candy Crush.
It was hard to avoid.
Once I sat down next to her on the couch and she showed me how to get three candies in a row. But she was quick to point out, what you really need is 4.
The pace was fast. The music, honestly, was a little eerie, but the sound of the candy crushing and the visual of the candy zooming by was mesmerizing. Intoxicating. The colors. And when the special candy came, the kind that comes from getting at least four matches, oh god it was like an orgasm. Forget about 5 matches. It was exhilarating. Imagine taking a ride on a roller coaster without leaving your couch. Or bed. Or toilet. Or subway train. Or just about any place that you could get a connection and play.
Once I took the Path train from New Jersey to New York and played the whole 25 minutes there. It was fantastic, but I had already begun to feel a bit strange. I didn’t want anyone to see me because I held the visual of all the people I had seen playing on trains before. There were so many. Always playing Candy Crush. On buses, too. I’d peak over their shoulders and watch for a few seconds, wondering about the allure. I’d see them in offices too. Anytime there was a wait for something they were there. Always there. Always playing with that colorful screen full of colors popping out like popcorn, and that hypnotizing music.
So sweet. So harmless.
Now I was the one sitting on the train, on the bus, in the office, playing. Always playing. And for some reason I didn’t want people to know.
I started having signs that it was becoming more than just a way to veg out when I started neglecting the kids.
“Mommy, can I have some milk?”
“Wait a minute, baby, just let me finish this game.”
I couldn’t wait to get them into the tub so that I could sit on the toilet and get back to my game.
“I’m ready to get out,” my daughter would say.
“OK, just let me finish my game.” I’d put on cartoons to occupy them and would rationalize that they had their thing and I had mine. Right?
But it didn’t feel right. I knew it wasn’t right. But I couldn’t stop. I was already in too deep.
It had only been about a week, but I was in it up to my neck.
My mom was now back home and all my calls to her were about Candy Crush. “Can you believe I’ve been on the same level for two days?!”
“That’s normal. Sometimes I’ve been on the same level for a whole week! That’s when I paid them.”
Paid them? How now brown cow. The fact that my mom would pay money for a game was beyond belief. Moms keeps her money tight. She is the only person I know who lives on a fixed income but always has money saved up. It didn’t make sense. But I too had contemplated it.
In fact, a few times I had tried to spend the .99 cents to help me move on to the next level, but the only thing that saved me was that I couldn’t remember my Apple password. Every time it didn’t work I’d take it as a sign that I didn’t need to pay them the money. They were already making, from what I heard, close to a million dollars a day. I felt like a fool to even consider it.
But it was brutal thugging it out, trying to beat the machine with no assistance. When trying to encourage me, my mom would say that the game is set up for the machine to win, so don’t feel too bad when you get stuck on a level.
“Hang in there,” she’d say, tenderly. Candy Crush was bonding us in ways that we hadn’t felt in years.
She was becoming my Candy Crush guru.
Like mom, I too was starting to get edgy about the shut-out times. During the longer stints, I told myself that it was just a stupid game, and I should get out. But then I’d get the alert on my phone, the same beep that let’s me know that I have a voicemail, telling me that I have more lives, I can play again, and there I was hooked once more.
It was the first thing I did in the morning. I told myself it was just a way to get me up and going. Like coffee. It was the last thing I did at night. Sometimes I’d go to bed around 1:30am, eyes glossed over, brain fried -- just let me crush some more candy. I know I can get to the next level.
I dreamed about it in my sleep. Red, yellow and green candy dancing around like rock stars. It was all very pop culture. I even bought some jelly beans and didn’t make the connection. I was losing myself.
It was around this time that I really started thinking about getting out. Now that I was stuck on level 24 it seemed like a good time. I could just walk away. Not look back.
But it kept calling.
One morning when I woke up with my phone already in my hand and started playing almost like a reflex, I knew I wasn’t enjoying it. So I played one game and got on with the day. I actually thought I might be cured.
But less than an hour later it started calling. I was volunteering at my daughter’s school, just for a few hours, but I couldn’t wait to ditch those kids and get back to my beloved Candy Crush. Just let me sit at home on the couch uninterrupted.
I went home and played some more games. Got shut out. Played again. I still couldn’t complete the level. It was time to pick up my daughter.
I called my mom who had just reached level 86. When I congratulated her, she played it down. Her friend Keisha was on level 124. This was nothing. Besides, she said, it goes to 400 and something. Maybe even 5. I began to get scared. Where does it end? I was already not in a good place, and yet I was a neophyte on level 24. Just a baby in the Candy Crush world. How would I survive? What about the kids?
I pictured them in the kitchen, feeding off of paint chips and stale Kix cereal. My 2 year-old’s diapers would be soiled and sagging while I’d promise, “Hold on, Boo-Boo, just one more level.” My 4 year-old would hate me. Upset that she was now fully responsible for her baby sister. And my husband, well, maybe I could still hide it from him. I was doing a pretty decent job of it already. Honestly, it was never him that worried me during those really bad times, it was always the kids.
“Mom,” I said, “I want out. I can’t keep playing Candy Crush.”
This wasn’t the first time she’d heard this from me in the past few days. I’d called her a few times to vent.
“Yea, well, they just shut me out for 24 hours! I said, f*ck it and I’m playing something else in the meantime. They won’t get any more of my money!”
“Ma, I’m serious. I can’t do it anymore. I think now is a good time to get out. Now that I can’t get off this level. And before I—“
I trip over a crack in the sidewalk and my phone goes flying out of my hand, crashing to the ground. It lands with the screen facing down. The back of it looks fine, but it was a nasty spill. I walk over to my phone in slow motion. Afraid to see…
I pick it up, turn it over and it looks like it’s been in an earthquake. I want to cry. I place it to my ear and hear my mom still on the line talking about Candy Crush.
I tell her that I just fell and cracked my phone and I have to go. I’m too upset to talk.
My immediate response is to go into a corner and die. I’m overwhelmed by woe is me because it seems like I’ve been having so many setbacks lately. Just the other day I messed up my laptop by putting it near the heater. It got so hot the corners curled up like one of those quirky mustaches. Two days later it stopped coming on altogether. I took it to my man Chuck who knows everything about computers and as soon as he saw the twisted up corners he put his head down and later confirmed what I already knew. It was done.
So here I am standing on the street, wondering why this is happening to me, and then it hits me. I’d been praying for the strength to leave Candy Crush but I didn’t know how. Sometimes I even wondered if it was possible. The road looked so long and the allure was sometimes greater than me. My desire to quit never seemed enough. And here I was with a screen that was so cracked that if I pushed it I could still play, but why would I want to? This was my way out and I had to seize the opportunity.
It was now or never. So I did what was once unthinkable and deleted the app from my phone. Just like that. It’s been three days, 6 hours and 24 mins.