Recent Comments

Eric LeMay

Thank you for this intriguing post, Natalia. The dynamic you point out between the commercials and the user comments is fascinating. (I don’t read Russian, but I note the number of exclamation marks and emoticons.) I wonder if there’s a possible parallel in the situation you describe between the early years of the post-communist era in Russia and the early childhood of these millennials. It’s often the case that, in adulthood, we feel swindled and rueful about those mass-produced objects that held a fascination for us as children. How couldn’t we have known, back then, that what we coveted was just cheap commercial garbage, meant to exploit our naiveté? (I, for one, hate the fact that my stomach starts grumbling every time I smell a McDonald’s, though I haven’t eaten there since I was a kid.) Could it be the case that this dynamic also occurs culturally, in moments of great change, when a new era is in its “youth”?

Eric LeMay

Thank you for this insightful post, Carlnita. You’re spot on that our consumption of candy and our fantasies about it evoke excess. There’s no need when it comes to candy. When someone says something non-ironically like, “I need a Snickers,” we tend to see that as a signal of misaligned values.

This photo-shoot is particularly telling when it comes to excess, because it reproduces a dynamic that’s familiar to anyone who’s watched cooking shows or flipped through the food glossies: just as celebrity chefs remake elegant and elaborate versions of familiar favorites, such as mac and cheese or meatloaf, Will Cotton gives us an elegant and elaborate version of the candy necklaces and bracelets we wore (and ate) as children. Elle Fanning isn’t the only one who can wear candy clothes, though hers are certainly more magical.

So here is an excess indeed, but, like most high-end fashion and food, this version remains out of the reach of everyday consumers like us.

Candy Crush Saga play screen from David Guo on Flickr
Stephanie Vie

Great points, Carlnita; I had someone ask me the other day if there was any research out there about the design of the characters in Candy Crush Saga (such as Mr. Toffee and Toffette, or “Tiffi”). I hadn’t run across any but it’s an interesting question: How does the design of the characters represent embedded values in the game?

The Honest Video Games trailer for Candy Crush calls Toffette “future eating disorder” and Mr. Toffee “Ginger Wonka.”

In what ways do the characters, design, and levels mask serious issues or elements under—as you noted—a playful, shiny veneer?

And again, I point out, because I think it’s relevant here, I enjoy playing Candy Crush, but I also think it’s useful to break down perhaps more difficult-to-see elements behind the scenes in some of our favorite games. Games are ideological constructs, and Candy Crush is no exception.

Stephanie Vie

Carlnita, I found this fascinating.

I think the relationship between couture clothing and fast-fashion clothing is an intriguing one to consider here; couture is often associated with fashionable, beautiful, elegant, and expensive clothing, whereas fast fashion (like you’d see at Forever 21 or H&M) is inexpensive, not always made out of the longest-lasting materials, etc. When I think of candy-related themes in fast fashion, it usually evokes cheaper costume jewelry, T-shirts with candy labels on them, etc. This could tie into your discussion of “decadence, reward, and waste” in very interesting ways!

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Carlnita P. Greene

Thanks to Eric for posting this insightful piece and to everyone for the rich discussion so far! In addition to considering the varied, and often contradictory, roles that candy plays within our society and culture, it also makes me wonder about the ways in which we conflate work and play within our contemporary lives.

Within the video there are both the dichotomies of chaos versus order and work versus play. However, the blurring of these two aspects often begins within childhood and, for some people, extends well into our adulthood. That is to say, there always seem to be those children who invent and/or impose their own rules within a game or play, regardless of whether the other children playing felt they were needed. In this same way, to what extent do we as adults try to imbue our working lives with play? Or, in what ways are play and/or candy utilized within the workplace to make our work seem less like work and more like play?

Candy Crush Saga play screen from David Guo on Flickr
Carlnita P. Greene

Great post, Stephanie, and excellent discussion so far! One aspect that strikes me about Candy Crush and other games of this nature is how they mask other key issues, like addiction, behind a veneer of “the shiny, cute, warm, fuzzy, and/or playful.” We are encouraged to focus only on the fun aspects of gaming instead of raising larger questions about why these types of activities are so “addictive” for many people.

In his work on “binge-consuming,” Stefano Passini argues that although we engage in many activities that have all of the hallmarks of addiction or binging, within contemporary culture, we often dismiss or overlook these similarities because they seem natural or are rooted in areas that we consider to be smaller indulgences like food. Certainly, for some people, playing Candy Crush could be considered as another example of addiction that is connected, not only to food, but also to the pleasures of play and consumption.

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Eric LeMay

Thanks so much for these thoughtful responses to my post. I find myself musing on everything from candy and realistic representation to candy and color theory to my favorite flavor of Starburst.

What strikes me foremost from our conversation is how illuminating it is to view candy as a medium, one that allows surprising forms of expression not only from those manufactures who design it, but also those of us who eat it. That’s to say that, as consumers, we don’t always express ourselves with our candy the way manufactures imagine we might, and yet we still find that our behaviors, practices, and choices around candy reveal something about who we are.

My great-grandfather, who died in 1984 at the age of 98, loved Circus Peanuts. This was one of the few character notes about him I knew. At six, I also knew these were anything but real peanuts and, as I said it back then to my mother, “old-people” candy.

Candy Crush Saga play screen from David Guo on Flickr
Stephanie Vie

Great question, Sammi and thanks for commenting, Ryan! Jeferson Valadares has suggested that around 3% of consumers will spend money in free-to-play games but “over 5% of all purchases are for amounts greater than $50.” These are the “whales”:

30% of the total revenue is generated from transaction sizes of over $50. If you’re a game designer, your main take away is that very few transactions—and consumers who complete those transactions—make up the bulk of your revenue. Therefore, your “meta-game” should be about whale hunting.”

In a fascinating piece from Ramin Shokrizade at Gamasutra, we hear about how King.com uses “coercive monetization” models, “progress gates,” and other monetization tricks to encourage users to pay. King.com wrote to Gamasutra to maintain that “their use of data in their game is for the purpose of ‘optimizing fun’, not profits.”

Candy Crush Saga play screen from David Guo on Flickr
ryan m. moeller

according to a survey by Swrve and reported by several sources, including Venture Beat, only a narrow margin of mobile gamers pay for half of in-game purchases.

i’m interested in this new model of gaming, where friends compete, help each other, and surveil their other friends gaming activity via social media. all the while, game companies are collecting data on who is playing and who is paying.

great work, Stephanie!

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Sammi Dittloff

Really interesting thoughts so far. In my post on Friday, I link to the Willy Wonka song, “Pure Imagination.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2pt2-F2j2g) Candy really satisfies that need for imagination and magic in all of us. It can take any form we think up, be any color, and taste however we can figure out using chemicals in a lab. Candy can be innovative or comforting, unusual or regular. We can align our identities and personalities with the candy we eat.

I’ve always found it funny when friends have a preference for a color of Starburst or a Skittle when I can’t tell much of a difference and like them all. We’ve taken these stances on something so artificial to connect to very real parts of our being.

Growing up, I feel like there was always at least one person who sorted their candy by color at the lunch table. Their imagination took them from chaos to order. I wonder where this dismantling of fun starts. Is it an intrinsic desire to organize or is it a learned habit from friends or family members who also sort their candy?

Lots of thought-provoking tidbits in one little post. Thanks for this!

- Sammi