Everyone takes their phones to the bathroom these days, so let's just get it out of the way: When I go, I usually play Candy Crush. I'm a quick pooper, but I still manage to fit in a game. As for those occasionally awful, oh-god-what-did-I-do-I'm-going-to-die dumps, they no longer cause me pain. I no longer feel anything, not even the traumatic churning of my bowels. All I feel is the need to clear the jelly.
I can't remember the exact moment at which I downloaded Candy Crush, though I can pinpoint it to sometime in late 2012, and I definitely don't know when I fell down this sickly sweet k-hole. But it is a modern day heart of darkness, a pit of addiction and emptiness, an all-consuming, single-minded obsession that devours your attention span and vomits up a distracted, disengaged shell of your former self. It's predatory, feeding on your sense of hope and curiosity (I'm sure I'll beat this level on my next try! I bet the next level will be really crazy fun, too!). It is the sort of mindless distraction that we crave when downloading these stupid games, but its mindlessness is never actually slow or repetitive — it's a perfect death grip.
My year of Candy Crush is a blur. I know it happened, is happening. There is no past or present tense. Candy Crush exists on a different plane, one where the passage of time has lost all meaning.
I don't necessarily play Candy Crush every day. And over the past year there were breaks, a few weeks here, a month there, when I walked away from the game — Enough! This is insane!, I'd tell myself — but I never walked away because I knew what was getting "insane" was inside of me. No, it was always the game's fault; I'd "quit" because after three weeks I'd still not beat level 68 and seriously, the system must be rigged, right? Fuck this. But in my heart of hearts I knew it wasn't actually rigged. I always came back, and when I did I would quickly beat the very level that had sent me flouncing. Each time I took it as a sign that I was supposed to be playing this game. My habit was vindicated; the universe confirmed that I was meant to be playing. I had talent.
Remarkably, I did not play Candy Crush on my wedding day, but in a year filled with an unusual amount of traveling, the candies have always been by my side (perhaps all the more so because of the hours spent in airports). I've played the game in Hong Kong, Phuket, Berlin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Austin, Jacksonville, Ann Arbor, Napa — god only knows what sights I missed because I was trying to stop those chocolate squares from multiplying.
And oh, that goddamn chocolate. I never really looked at the basic candies as candy; they were just the brightly colored shapes that I needed to move and clear. But once I started getting to the chocolate levels…there was no denying that I was looking at chocolate on my screen, little caramel-filled Ghiradelli squares that would deliciously suffocate my board. Half the time I didn't even want to clear them. They made my mouth water.
As the year progressed, things grew darker; I'd start googling for tips and tricks when a seemingly unbeatable level had left me despondent. It hurt me to admit I needed help to beat a level; seeking a path to victory from outside sources, rather than figuring it out myself, even if it took six weeks, felt like a much larger defeat. I wanted to be better than that.
Then, a new low: I finally started buying special candies to get through some levels. Sometimes the insurmountability of a board would leave me despondent, depressed by the inertia, hungry for the joy I once knew on the previous level, joy I was certain lay ahead on the level after. I'd play a single level constantly for three weeks before finally admitting to myself that I would lose my goddamn mind if I didn't move forward. (I'd arguably lost my mind months ago, but no matter; with Candy Crush, time stands still.) I had already spent plenty of money buying extra lives — there's nothing more excruciating than waiting for the lives to replenish — so what did it matter if I bought a lollipop hammer or seven? But I still felt like it was cheating, like I was taking advantage of an offering I didn't deserve. There was shame. There is shame.
Earlier this week, with the year finally drawing to a close, I found myself playing the game in bed — an unwise choice, always guaranteed to keep me up an hour later than necessary — and I started to doze off. That never happens. I was frustrated. My body was betraying me. I angrily tried to keep playing even as the sleep became impossible to fight. I cleared jelly until the last possible minute; Candy Crush had made me fight my own biological needs as a functioning human. But who needs to be a functioning human when you're thisclose to lining up five candies and scoring a color bomb?
As of today, I'm at level 102. I have no idea if I've actually made it "far" or if that's a "good" amount of progress, and I have no idea how many levels are ahead. I have no idea where I am going.