Another Level: How Candy Crush nearly crushed my soul

close-up of a game being played on a tablet

You mean you’re playing now?”

My husband is curled over something held low in his lap. He doesn’t answer.

“OK then,” I say. “Let me try for awhile.”

“No. I thought you quit.”

“Just one time. Just a little bit. Then I’ll be done.”

He ignores me, his eyes fixed, glazed, a zoned-out slackness to his mouth. I’m momentarily piqued, but then feel a flash of relief. I’ve dodged a bullet. If I relapse, there’s no knowing how far it’ll go.

At first, it’s simple: Line up three of a kind and they drop.

Get four in a row and they turn into a super one; the same thing happens if you make a T or a letter L–a different kind of super one.

Knock two super ones together, they throb and explode in a torrent of colors, sending little jelly-like fish swimming around the screen.

“It’s free” is the come on, but you can pay to get “boosters,” little cheats to help you win–a hammer, a hand, a giant bam-bam lollipop.

I swore I’d never pay to play. Except maybe just for this level, the one that’s impossible.

I’m on a binge this week. I have a crick in my shoulder, a pain in my neck. I see colored dots even when I’m not playing.

At the beginning of each game, I say, This is the last. See, I’m actually not the kind of person who plays video games.

Then I hit “play again.”

“Come to bed,” my husband says. I settle in next to his warm furry nakedness, then grab my phone for just one more round. He groans and turns over.

I dream of lining things up, having them drop.

In the morning, I play just one game. Hair of the dog and all.

I wait while it loads; anticipation builds. Like making the preparations for drug use, the rolling or grinding or measuring, or whatever.
The relief when the board’s set up. Happy colors, happy music. My path set out for me. I can do this!

I start slow–most of the levels aren’t timed. I’ll play it smart this time, try and line up my moves, don’t go for the easy three, the pulsing ones the game prompts me with if I seem to deliberate too long.

My unfinished novel pants at my feet like an annoying dog; I pointedly ignore it and start another level.

Line up, slide down. Line up, line up, slide down.

Nasty game this time. A couple more tries. Then, good round! Almost cleared the board. Try again.

Be careful, too many random choices and you can lose your life.

All the time, the game is nudging–give your friends lives! Invite your friends! Ask your friends to unlock levels! Share your wins!

Give a life to a friend. See, I’m magnanimous. Or, then I feel guilty, like a dealer, roping them in.

Accept a life from a friend. I’m popular–someone likes me!

I play day and night. I have to beat one level before doing any other task–one level stretching to several. I start to get antsy hanging out with friends, anxious for them to leave so I can go and play.

Ashamed, I hide my phone from prying eyes, toggle off the screen when someone comes in the room. I hope it saved; I was doing well.

Finally, I screw up my resolve and remove the app entirely.

Actually, semi-finally–the next morning, I put it back on and play again. Amazingly, I easily pass the level on which I’d spent the whole previous day. See, it knows when you’re leaving and acts sweet, like an abusive boyfriend. It wants you dependent and passive. It acts indifferent, but wants you there.

It understands you. It wants you.

One day I quit, cold turkey. I post on Facebook, I’m done with the world’s most addictive game. Later, friends tell me they started playing because of my post, addictive being the highest recommendation.