Saturday, September 14, 2013
Why is Candy Crush so addictive?
This is not the first time I've been addicted. It runs in the family, actually. Everyone else in my family was addicted to alcohol; I was the one addicted to alcoholics. Before and during that, to cigarettes. Had a doughnut addiction at one time, too - I'm not kidding. I had to diet off 30 pounds when I woke up to that one.
But enough about me. I want to talk more abstractly about addiction, which is a form of craving that gets itself lodged in you as a habit. In the case of substances, like nicotine, your body's chemistry gets involved. Smoking anything is a really fast delivery system; inhale the substance and
Getting off cigarettes after smoking for thirty years was a slow, tortured process. Many many recovering alcoholics can't quit smoking. It is addictive psychologically and behaviorally, but the chemical thing is also real. About fifteen minutes after you finish a cigarette, the nicotine level in your blood starts to fall. And fall. Lower, lower, until you are positively uncomfortable. Your body craves it, to get back in balance. When you light up again, reward!
Candy Crush isn't actual candy or I would weigh 400 pounds. It doesn't have to be. The horse races aren't substances, slot machines aren't, romance isn't - things just have to be exciting and promise a reward. And occasionally deliver. Not too often. And never be completely fulfilling.
A big piece of the fundamental message of Buddhism is that you're unhappy because you desire. Big things, like being Someone Special and staying young, little things like potato chips. A lot of what American Buddhists practice is controlling our impulses, both sitting in meditation and making nice after sitting on hold for fifteen minutes.
In Candy Crush, you are rewarded for every move, more so if you have the sound on. And when you win! OMG! Lights, bells, whistles, fish swarming across the page. It's great, for five seconds. Then you want to move to the next level: winning doesn't satisfy you. This is actually true about everything, up to the Nobel Prize. Whatever you do, if you do it to get somewhere it won't make you happy.
Recently I met a guy who does extreme sports. He told me sports jumpers are the ones who die in parachute jumps - not the rank amateurs who just want to try it once. Because the extreme sport addict always wants to dare a little bit more. "Waiting till you're 1,000 feet from the ground, before you open the chute," he said, "what a rush! Now you want to try 950 next time. It's the danger that's the rush, the adrenaline. And I'm addicted to that." He does a lot of those sports, he told me - a man with a wife and children. Go figure.
But isn't it just the same when you have that restless desire to shop for new shoes? When you keep trying new restaurants? When you work for a bigger more pixels more power flat screen/vehicle/salary/kitchen/house? I think that's why you'll see people get divorced after they remodel. It didn't work.
The sad/funny thing about the human animal is that we are pretty slow to figure these things out. That's partly because a lot of people get very rich by building those cravings. This is why I don't enjoy "Mad Men" either. It's too true - the people at the top earn big money devising commercials to make people believe that a lustrous new car will make you the person you want to be in the world over the rainbow. Maybe it does for a few hours or weeks. Or until the next model comes out. Compared to that, Candy Crush is harmless.