Intellectually, I know the snapping licorice and laser-shooting non-pareils in Candy Crush are just manipulating my neural signals to release gifts of dopamine in my brain.
I sat down to lunch on Monday and opened my "Time Suckers" folder on my iPhone, but my instinctive thumb found only empty space where Candy Crush Saga used to be.
It's gone. I better learn how to face it.
The night before, there was an intervention.
My girlfriend Lysa came over with her kids to celebrate my husband's birthday. After dinner we sat in the living room chatting. My phone was on the coffee table, and I wondered how many lives I had accumulated in my Candy Crush universe. Earlier that day, while playing with my 10-year-old, I had broken through to level 125, the last level in Peppermint Palace. Clear all that jelly, and I would pay 99 cents to move on to the Wafer Wharf, where I would gain an explosive moment of satisfaction, but no insight, wisdom or tangible benefit.
"Do you play Candy Crush?" I asked Lysa.
"Oh, God. I had to delete it from my phone."
"What level were you on?"
"I don't remember. Two hundred and something."
"What? How could you delete it?"
"I was a maniac. I played it constantly."
"How much?" my husband, Michael, asked. "Like, two hours a day?"
"Easily," she said. "Probably more."
"Because Jenny has a problem."
I opened my mouth to protest, but I couldn't. It was true. Intellectually, I knew Candy Crush was a purgatory disguised as a pastel-hued paradise. I knew the man with the monocle and handlebar moustache could not be trusted. I knew the snapping licorice and laser-shooting non-pareils were manipulating my neural signals to release gifts of dopamine in my brain, acting just like sugar from actual candy.
But I did not care. I was bewitched.
I Crushed first thing in the morning, my most productive jelly-clearing and ingredient-collecting time. I Crushed during breakfast, during lunch, intermittently during the day when I had writer's block. I Crushed while a passenger in the car, while waiting for my kids at school pickup, while cooking dinner, while the kids got ready for bed, once while sitting in bed with my younger son when he read to me, while hanging out with friends, and, of course, I Crushed at bedtime.
I wish I could Crush right now, as I try to think of a compelling segue to how I already deleted the game once. I was on level 65 and felt powerless against the aggressive chocolate. So I removed it from my phone. But a few days later, I noticed that Candy Crush was also on our iPad. Oh, I'll just play until I get to the end of the free levels, I said to myself.
But when the Chocolate Mountains were before me, I ponied up the 99 cents to advance. It's only 99 cents. I won't buy extras, I'll just see if I can clear level 65. But I couldn't buy passage through the Chocolate Mountains because Michael had enabled restrictions on the iPad and he couldn’t remember the password.
"Why do you need it?" he asked after my five failed password attempts.
"You don't want to know."
Then I fully relapsed. I re-downloaded it on my phone. Got to level 65. Beat it. And downward on a candy-cane striped spiral I slid. Somewhere in the Salty Canyon, with one jelly left on a level I couldn't beat, I bought extra moves. Then three lollipop hammers. Then three more lollipop hammers. And the Easter Extras Special for $4.99. Au revoir $40.
"You have to delete it," Lysa said.
"I can't. I'll cut back on my own."
Yes. I know how that sounded.
"You won't," Lysa said. "Trust me. It's for the best."
"But I didn't clear all the jelly!"
"Do it. Do it now."
I pushed down on the apps on the iPhone. They wiggled. But I couldn’t go through with it.
"You do it," I told Lysa. I handed her my phone and closed my eyes. Candy Crush Saga and all of my progress was gone.
"Best birthday present ever!" Michael shouted.
When I told my kids, I wasn't prepared for Maxon's dramatic begging to put it back on my phone. Cue guilt over modeling inappropriate phone behavior.
"Why is this so upsetting for you?"
"Because we can't be Candy Crush buddies anymore."
Oh my. Candy Crush was something Maxon and I sometimes did together. He pointed out matches, the way to get four and five in a row. To him, it was a bonding experience. Was that bonding cheapened because it was over a silly video game? I don't think so. But there are more valuable ways to connect.
"We can be buddies another way," I suggested.
We talked a little about what he would like to share with me and soon the drama over Candy Crush evaporated. I took some solace in the fact that his reaction wasn't about the game itself, but about our relationship. I'll get used to a Candy Crush free life (one day at a time). And I can show our boys that there are more precious ways to spend our time than clearing all the jelly.