By Ed Power
As sweet and insubstantial as a mouthful of jelly beans, Candy Crush has been described as the most addictive video game of all time. It is certainly on course to become the most popular, with some 45 million said to play this simple puzzle-based title (mostly on their phones and tablets) every month.
Central to Candy Crush's appeal are its bright visuals and simple mechanics: players swap adjacent sweets to line up three or more of the same colour in order to clear the board.
It sounds almost childishly straightforward but, make no mistake, once you start playing you may have a hard time stopping: the effect of Candy Crush on the human brain has been likened to the thrill a gambler receives when they have a flutter.
Released as a Facebook game in April 2012, Candy Crush has made millions for its creators King. That's thanks to an ingenious business model, which allows players 'level up' by paying extra. This is thought to earn the company in the region of $670,000 every day. Unusually for a video game, Candy Crush's biggest audience is women aged 25 to 55, with some fans said to have impulsively blown thousands feeding their addiction.
In addition to proving that sometimes the simplest ideas are often best, Candy Crush has reignited the debate about video games and compulsive behaviour. To describe a game as 'addictive' is to pay it the highest possible compliment – but some have questioned whether games have become too good at gobbling up our time.
In a warning that will chill many parents, a British psychotherapist has stated that gaming addiction can be more difficult to treat than a dependency on hard drugs.
In extreme cases, child addicts can become violent if they are forcibly separated from their games, according to Stephen Noel-Hill.
"Kids have attacked their families when they've taken games away from them. In some cases they've threatened their parents with knives. People will wake up one day and realise they have no qualifications and no social skills to form relationships. It's a time-bomb."
It isn't just children at risk. The average video gamer is a 35-year-old male, a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine has found.
The research indicated that video-game addiction leads to lower levels of sociability and impaired assertiveness as gamers withdraw from the real world.
Something to keep in mind the next time you fire up your console for a Call of Duty all-nighter.