Candy crush is a game I am growing to like. After 2 years of arduous grad school, I call it my sinful indulgence or as a Swahili speaker would put it kuambia mwili pole which when loosely translated means, “To tell your body sorry for the hard work”. I like how the candy appears on the screen in bright colors; blue, red, green, and yellow among others. All of the shimmering lights prompt you to swipe your worries away. This is a game where you make a move by matching three or more similar candy.
After every move you make there are encouraging words like “sweet” and “tasty” said to you in this deep voice that seems to be winking at you and prompting you to keep going. When you crush more candy than usual it gives you a different reinforcement and at the end of every game, there is confetti thrown on the screen. It seems like an endless party, win or lose you still get encouragement. As a student of life, I see some of the laws of psychology at play, positive reinforcement keeps many people hooked on the game. In fact, the game makers suggest that 13 trillion rounds of the game have been played since the game was started1 and over 93 million people had played the game by 2014 up to 1 billion times a day2 and the game has been installed 2.7 billion times across Facebook, iOS, and Android3. It’s so popular that, according to the studio, one out of every 23 Facebook users is a fan of the game4. These are normal people like you and I, spending hours on a game that offers no tangible reward. In a world where time is money, why does this happen?
J. B Watson once said, give me anyone and I can change their behavior using reinforcement. One does not need to be a psychologist to witness this in daily life, in fact, this is how dogs, horses, and anything with a higher level of functioning is taught and learns.
I have watched thieves “shop” from unsuspecting passengers who feel the urge to use their phones in traffic, during intense meetings some people use their phones to ease the tension, I have also caught myself wanting to play in the church between a boring sermon, (my pastor should not read this because the youth have worked hard to convince the old folk that we are reading an online Bible as we swipe our phones in church). This urge has made me wonder, what is this about games, our phones, and the internet that draws us in? Could it be that we are being rewarded by games that call us awesome and give us a high score so that even when we fail in real life, we still shine in the virtual world? Could it be that we crave for affirmation that we desperately need?
I often play this game on hard days at work or just to have fun. This past month, as I face the pressures of life after grad school, I played candy crush to drown the feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. The first words that popped up on the screen were “swipe the stress away” It then occurred to me that this was my way of self-soothing, distracting myself from the unpleasant feelings I was having. For someone who thrives on affirmation, and yet grew with very few of those reinforcing words, I find myself smiling when the computerized voice acknowledges me. It makes me feel competent. In my opinion candy crush offers an ephemeral escape that points to our innate need for encouragement and a pat on the back, things that some typical African homes miss out on.
I wonder how different it would be if teachers adopted the candy crush strategy of positive reinforcement instead of physically inflicting pain on children. Maybe more children would enjoy education. I wonder how many young women would choose a career in STEM over early marriage if they are told that they are capable instead of the message that they belong in the background. I wonder if we adopted the candy crush strategy and encouraged young men to know that they are awesome and do not need to prove their masculinity by making women feel less. What if we focused on the positive moves that people made instead of highlighting their negative moves?
I might be a millennial who publicly confesses to playing games at church but I have learnt a good deal from it. It has reminded me to cheer on those playing the game of life. As I write this I wonder, how many have not received these reinforcing words, how many have instead grown up hearing the word failure and have believed that they are incompetent. We might all be searching for that reinforcement and fulfillment in something.
When one reaches the really hard levels the reinforcement takes a while to materialize, but this is where the greatest miracle in candy crash happens. Super candy is a result of combining 4 or more candy to help one succeed at these levels. Each super candy has unique abilities that when joined with others the magic in candy crush happens! I will leave it to the reader to try it out. Similarly, if we unite and use our unique abilities to help each other, we can witness the magic in life happen especially in hard times that Africa is facing like war, corruption, famine, and gender inequality. As we face the hurdles of post-colonialism, we can use our God-given abilities to go through and reach the next level. Just like in the game, women and men can join and use our strengths to overcome the challenges in our continent. With no one feeling superior to the other we can lower the rate of unemployment, we can use our powers to stop tribalism and corruption, we can be the voice that radiates love to PLWDS, and we can end the stigma against marginalized and at-risk populations. As Nelson Mandela puts it, freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression, our endeavors must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man, and the liberty of the child. With all of us free, Africa’s beauty will radiate, and confetti will fall on our motherland just as it does in candy crush saga.
1 Information got on the candy crush saga game app, 2019
2 The Guardian Post, Stuart Dredge, March 26, 2014, Why is Candy Crush Saga so popular?
3 Venturebeat, Dean Takahashi, 2017 Candy Crush Saga: 2.73 billion downloads in five years and still counting.