Around this time last year, I abruptly found myself with a lot of time on my hands and little motivation. Candy Crush Saga became a welcome companion and the perfect distraction. After a couple of weeks, something unexpected happened. Through the repetitive and seemingly mindless activity of crushing candies, I began to observe things, familiar things. Things I needed to remember.
On distractions, short-term gratification and awareness
Candy Crush goes beyond its “match-3” origins giving players a highly rewarding visual experience and an ever-changing landscape of ways to crush that candy. Blowing shit up is fun! As you progress, the animations get more detailed and interesting, and the action intensifies.
For each level, there’s a specific goal. Crush a certain amount of the blue candies. Clear all the jellies. Collect a certain number of licorice, toffee swirls and chocolates. This information is posted at the top of your screen while you play.
Here’s the thing though: it’s really easy to get carried away and take your eyes off the prize. Sometimes, I’d realize I hadn’t even looked to see what I needed to clear the level. I’d just jumped in and started blowing shit up, because it’s so freaking fun.
If you’re not paying attention, you can use your limited amount of moves doing random acts of destruction that don’t bring you closer to clearing the level and moving on to the next one. Sometimes, all you need to do is match three to win.
Distractions aren’t inherently bad. It’s not lost on me, for example, that I’m talking about distractions within a distraction! Meta. The difference is whether I knowingly choose distraction or am just not paying attention, seduced by short-term gratification over long-term gain.
Learn the lay of the land
With a clear understanding of your goals, you can assess your environment. Each new level has a particular set of challenges. The number of moves you have varies. You may or may not have boosters. There will be one or more elements on the board working against you.
Understanding your limitations helps you prioritize, and understanding what obstacles you’re facing—ticking time bombs, licorice locks, bubblegum pops—lets you know which tools will be most effective. Striped candies, for example, are completely ineffective against licorice swirls. Need to get some wrapped candies in for those.
You will get more bang for your metaphorical buck if you have a constant awareness of your surroundings and what you have to work with. What’s working for you? What’s working against you? And what can you do to get the most out of the moves you’ve got?
Often, the game is rigged
While Candy Crush is technically a free game, the owners, of course, want to make money. So, you can play for free, but within limits. If you want to exceed those limits, you gotta pay. To entice you to pay, they’ve created a highly addictive game…and they’ve rigged it.
At first, the game gives you enough leeway to get you hooked by making it easy to win. Then eventually, the free boosters stop appearing, and the game gets really hard. Sometimes it seems impossible to win. This is where the game pushes you to make purchases, with lots of pop-up offerings.
Well, as much as I like the game, I don’t want to pay for it. When I’d hit one of these walls, where I was out of ammo and I couldn’t pass a level without it, I’d stop playing. Then, when I came back a couple of days later, I’d find that I could crush that super hard level and there were suddenly lots of free boosters available.
When you know the game is rigged, you can use that knowledge to your advantage. Not knowing can be an expensive lesson to learn.
Repetition makes rapture (or something like that)
I never liked the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” I mean, neither practice nor perfection ever sounded that appealing to me, so I don’t find it motivating.
There is an underlying truth to it, though.
Do a thing over and over again, and you will start to change, for better or for worse (depending on the thing). Do a skill-based thing over and over again, and you will improve, whether or not that’s your goal. Even if you’re only doing it as a distraction, for fun, or maybe because you have to.
Do a thing repeatedly over time, and other interesting things start happening too. Your mind and thoughts change. Your body changes. And sometimes unexpected things can happen, like when inspiration strikes and you decide to write about it…
Remember to have fun
In the immortal words of Roy Kent, “Fuck your feelings, fuck your overthinking, fuck all that bullshit, go back out there and have some fucking fun.”
Thanks, Roy, and thanks Candy Crush – that’s the most important lesson of all.
Fun random bonus fact for those of you who play Candy Crush: you ever notice how in Sweet Cinema the lollipop is always the last prize to show up? Every. Single. Time. The order of the other four prizes is random, but the lollipop is always last. Weird.