What do Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey’s character on TV’s “House of Cards”) and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) have in common? Maybe a lot as fictitious and real politicians, but for sure they share a penchant for video games. Senator Cruz recently admitted to The Daily Beast that he has a secret video game “addiction” that dates back to playing “Space Invaders” and “Centipede” at the arcade as a kid. These days, his “drugs” of choice are “Candy Crush” and “The Creeps!”, reported The Daily Beast. Underwood, for his fictional part, favors “Call of Duty” and “Monument Valley.“
While Cruz may joke about his “Candy Crush” scores, any compulsive behavior that interferes with your life (and the time-sucking abilities of these games is extraordinary, as millions of us know too well), and that definitely includes video game and technology addiction, can be serious business. Even names like “Trivia Crack” give more than a hint as to how hard to-put down these apps are for many. I myself have downloaded, uninstalled and re-downloaded “Trivia Crack” some kabillion times precisely because it’s addictive for me. (And in case you don’t know what the game is, it’s essentially a mobile-friendly version of Trivial Pursuit: To win, a player must correctly answer more questions in all seven categories before his or her opponent does.
The Very, Very Big Business of Games
I’m definitely not the only one getting a neck-ache playing apps like these. In February 2015, VentureBeat reported that “Trivia Crack” was the most-downloaded app in the world, with more 125 million downloads across the globe at the time. Games are the most popular type of app in the iTunes app store, comprising 21.8% of all downloads there in June 2015. And given that the mobile app industry , estimated to grow to a $77 billion business by 2017, no one who builds these games wants you to keep playing the free version, of course. The nature of the game is all about upgrading you to the next (paid) level, so making the apps as addictive as possible is, of no surprise, the goal.
With “Trivia Crack,” for example, players have options for narrowing down the multiple-choice answers, or selecting a different question in the same category. Those lifelines come with a price; to increase your chances of victory, you need “coins. Coins can be accumulated slowly — you earn three for winning a game, for example — or quickly, by purchasing them in the app store, at 55 coins for $4.99, or 120 for $9.99. In other words, once you’re hooked with a taste of the game and its free perks, you’ll want to keep them coming, which means handing over cash. Sound like another business model you might be familiar with?
And boy, do we like those advantages. A look at the top-grossing iPhone mobile gaming apps shows not just how many people are buying these games, but also the number of extras that are bought. The top-grossing game as of press time — “Game of War-Fire Age” — raked in $1,533,993 per day in May 2015. “Clash of Clans” followed with $1,072,433 per day and Cruz’s favorite, “Candy Crush,” took the third-place spot with $915,279.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to imply that there’s anything wrong with playing a few fun games, even ones that ask you to pay a couple of bucks to get a leg up (who doesn’t like winning?). Just as not everyone who drinks will become alcoholic, not everyone who plays will find themselves awake at three in the morning, staring blearily at the flashing screen of a smartphone and trying to get to the next level. But some of us will. And when one considers just how much money these apps are making, it becomes clear that the creators of these games have a significant investment in making them as addictive as they are. And that doesn’t include the other kinds of costs to those of us who use the games, as in time we could be spending in other (and I’ll say it: more productive) ways, for starters. There’s some evidence that gaming can reduce stress and improve mood, but like any behavior that’s taken to an extreme, it can also be damaging and anything but relaxing.
In the end, I measure my own — let’s call it an “attachment” – to “Trivia Crack” like any other potentially addictive behavior in my life: Is it having a negative impact on my life? If say, you play the “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” app at your job at the Environmental Protection Agency and accidentally send out a notification about it on your work’s Twitter account, that could be a problem. (Yeah, this may have happened.) More likely, though, you could ask yourself, does playing routinely cause my sleep to suffer, night after night? Am I skipping workouts or making myself healthier meals to play more? Those are simple signs to be aware of that what started out as a fun pastime could be morphing into something else.
People laugh when I tell them that the word game “Wordpop!” was almost the catalyst for my ex-boyfriend and I calling it quits, but I’m not joking. After having our umpteenth fight about my not listening because I was too busy playing, I finally uninstalled the game. Many addictions are so obvious and ugly that it’s easy to forget about subtler hazards. After all, being glued to a smartphone isn’t so bad when you compare it to waking up on the sidewalk in front of your apartment, right? But if you suspect that your “Candy Crush” habit is replacing other things you want or need to do, like meeting up with friends or paying your electric bill, it might be time to take a step back and, as in my case, get to know that “uninstall” button.
Image courtesy of Candy Crush Saga/King.com