Recently there’s been a lot of attention to King.com in leftist media, particularly to the company’s problematically pushy attempts to enforce its trademark over words like “candy” and “saga.” Now as an avid player of Candy Crush, I find myself torn. On the one hand, I’ve got a lot of free time on my hands; on the other hand, I’ve had a life-long intolerance for bullshit.
But I don’t want to focus on the wank/counterwank that is quibbling over trademark. Instead, I’d like to investigate the idea that Candy Crush Saga itself is a wonderful model of late capitalism in miniature.
Let’s set the stage: you are a hyper-infantilized little girl named Tiffi, traveling along a loopy and colorful path through a land seemingly born of that one night when Lisa Frank got drunk and had sex with a gummi bear. Encouraging/grooming you along in your journey is one Mr. Toffee, who seems to know something of the ways of this brave new world. As you put together combinations of 3, 4, or 5 candies (in a process I assume is called “crushing” them), Mr. Toffee shouts out to you things like “sweet,” “tasty,” “delicious,” “divine” at various levels of orgastic delight during play.
(I’ve often wondered privately about the number of people who, in searching for King.com, accidentally replace a G with a K and end up in a place far more shocking, also in some ways a symptom of late capitalism, but perhaps a little bit more fun. Think about that the next time you look at those ecstatic faces of those BESM cartoon characters in, say, Farm Heroes Saga. BESM, not to be confused with that other acronym.)
Anyway, let’s not go down that road. Besides, there’s only one road in the game.
As you get further down the road, the challenges begin to increase, but the first levels take relatively little time to get through. Which means there’s a certain expectation that if a person is playing, they need to be doing at least so well, or else they’re an idiot. I can forgive Grandma for being stuck at Level 1 for all eternity, because I think she installed the app on Facebook by accident. But anyone who is behind you in the “saga” is obviously not as good at the game as you are, and if they’re not capable of at least making it to like level 50 or some other arbitrary number, you wonder how they even have the lizard-brain capability to shove food into their mouth three times a day.
Thus your level of achievement is important, but really only in comparison to your friends. And by “friends,” I mean the loose connotation of the “Facebook Friend,” because some of these people who keep requesting stuff from me I haven’t talked to in years. (GOD DAMMIT PENNY STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT.) But since it’s sort of supposed to be for everyone’s benefit to make these connections, we do it with various levels of shamelessness. It’s almost as bad as LinkedIn.
As you finish various stages, you then have to unlock new ones. Sometimes you can do this via networking, but there’s also that (seductive, seductive) option to just pay your way ahead. In fact, you can buy most anything in the game if you so please– not success directly, but tons of advantages that poise you to have an easier time rising to the top.
Note that this isn’t a fake dollar. This is actually currency, which you can exchange for “gold bars” that allow you to buy rewards that are whipped out of the ether on demand. (In fact, this is one of the reasons so many economists are drooling over the prospects of virtual economies— finally, a way to give people nothing for something!)
Now from time to time, you may become frustrated with the game. Level 202 had me almost ready to brutalize kittens for like a solid month of on-and-off play. (Confession: I don’t have a smart phone. I only crush the candies on Facebook. I crush on other things on Facebook as well, but that’s a whole ‘nother story for a whole ‘nother time.) Anyway, the game will then poll you with the “Fun-o-Meter” to see how “exciting” you found that level.
The Fun-o-Meter is a way to share your pleasure/displeasure with how things have been going as of late in the game. No one is sure exactly what it does, but it seems like if you vote for the blue, left side (Boring!), you get more handouts, and if you vote for the red, right side (Wohoo!), the game gets stingier with what it gives you and just lets you play without any help.
But does picking either side of the Fun-o-Meter actually change anything? Nope. Either way, you’re still playing the same game– a game rigged to extract the maximum amount of cash from you that it can by giving you some challenge when you want it and some consolation when you’re feeling a little bit blue. Just enough so that you keep playing.
Because if there weren’t a way to make money off your back, the system wouldn’t exist in the first place. King.com isn’t doing this for fun. The game is a masturbatory exercise; your feedback and feeling of control helps keep you playing and helps guarantee more opportunities to extract money. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking masturbation– I’m just saying that you can pleasure yourself without having to spend a dime. Would that I could cure hunger by rubbing my belly!
The irony of this all, then, is that there are a good number of people who are stuck at Level 22 in Candy Crush, and they will laugh at anyone who has progressed further as having way too much time on their hands. These people slave away doing someone else’s bidding– I think they’re analysts. They’re analyzing… something. These creatures run fastest on the hamster-wheel that is the job, and then they build cavernous, unsightly nests.
What’s more, because they’re so much further ahead in this game, they fight tooth and nail to protect the very system that they’re trapped in. And they see it as justification for treating others with no respect, because… well, if they gave a shit they’d at least make an effort. Those lower levels are easy if you’d just try!
Okay, folks. That’s all I’ve got. Alex and I are going to a rally this evening, and in the mean time, I’m working away at Level 215. I hear that Mr. Toffee and the Easter Bunny will finally solve my problem once I beat this level, and I’m kinda stoked.
EMMA GOLDMAN prefers not to be categorized or labeled. She lives in New York City with her friend and lover Alexander and enjoys dancing.