Many of the tech savvy people I follow have been ironically (or not) playing the new Kim Kardashian: Hollywood app for smart phones. Analysts are predicting that Ms. Kardashian may make upwards in $85 million dollars in profits from it. I do not understand any of this. At first glance, it sounds like everything that is wrong with American capitalism is taking place in an animated role playing game.
I wanted to know how and why this is happening, and I figured the only way I could start to figure this out is to delve headlong into the soul-sucking hellscape that is the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood app. Knowing nothing about it, save for its wild popularity, I will journey into the abyss so you don’t have to. Note that I am not intrigued so much as morbidly curious.
7/21/14 9:10 PM: Before Downloading the App
Some background before I begin my journey. I have never watched an entire episode of any iteration of Kardashian media, but I am familiar with the family as pop culture figures. I know Kim’s father rose to prominence as the successful defense attorney of noted non-wife-killer, O.J. Simpson. I know that Kim rose to prominence from her work on the business end of Brandy’s brother. I know her Svengali mom parlayed her ‘star quality’ into an interminable series of television shows highlighting the exploits of her family. I know she married Kanye West and named their spawn after a cardinal direction.
I do not judge you for watching the show. I waste plenty of time on television. I have seen every episode of America’s Next Top Model. If there were a channel that only played episodes of Chopped, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat. I regularly watch my favorite So You Think You Can Dance routines on YouTube.
As I enter my password into the app store, I notice that the app promises me that I will “join Kim Kardashian in my own celebrity adventure.” The only rule that I’ve set for myself is that I will spend at least 24 hours playing the app with an open mind and heart. It is in that spirit that I move forward.
7/21/14 – 9:23 PM: Liftoff
No, Kim, you may not send me push notifications.
I choose a handsome male avatar and am told that I’m an employee at So Chic Boutique. I’m new in Hollywood, after all, so retail makes sense. My boss is a bearded African American man with an impeccable sense of style who gives me a list of chores to do. I do them and earn points. This is the first step in my eventual domination of Hollywood. I wonder if Kim also had to fold clothes and straighten up the room after her initial venture into stardom with Ray-J.
Wait a second! As I close up shop, Kim herself shows up and asks me to let her in the store. She’s having a fashion emergency (her words), and needs my help. As a famewhore in training, OF COURSE I agree to let her in. My avatar pumps his fist. I collect money and stars and Kardashian points, whose use I’m sure will become clear later.
My real life boyfriend asks what I’m doing. I tell him. He points at the front door and says to get out. I laugh, but he silently walks away in the other direction.
I put down my phone and vow to continue later. I take out the garbage in my boxers, empty the dishwasher, and then make my self a salad and turkey burger for dinner. I earn zero dollars or Kardashian points for these tasks, making me already prefer the world of Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood.
7/21/14 – 11:45PM
In the world of this game, Kim seems really nice. I never imagined she’d be anything but pleasant, and she’s helped me find an agent already. She did this when we went to a party at her favorite bar. I met others there, and I was given the choice to flirt or network. Of course, I was only allowed to flirt with women because, like most things, at least at this point, Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood is restrictively heteronormative.
The game makes no overtures whether Kim is smart or not. She speaks in a ditzy manner, but she’s also wont to offer sage advice. In this way, it’s a bit like real life where I vacillate whether I think Kim is intelligent or not. There’s no doubt she’s good at what she does – continue to be famous for being famous without any discernible talent. And I guess this is impressive? Would I be running the company I work for if I were as savvy as a Kardashian, or would I have had to start with the amount of money and social capital they did? Probably the latter.
The game allows me to use “charm points” to get out of trouble. We are meant to believe that this is a transferable skill rather than a euphemism. Within the realm of the game, I accidentally summon a stray cat who asks me to adopt it. I turn him down and lose charm points. Can’t win ‘em all.
In any case, I need headshots taken if I’m going to book any modeling jobs. The game says I can either wait an hour or pay a fee and get started right away. I decide to wait and have my photo shoot in the morning after some beauty rest.
7/22/14 – 6:47AM
I wake with a message from my agent, even though I asked for no push notifications. But Kim didn’t make it to the top by following rules like some plebian! My agent loves my headshots, but there’s some awful news. Someone is spreading horrible rumors about me and Kim, so I’ll have to hire a publicist. That will have to wait, as I have to get ready for my *real* job at a small Philadelphia nonprofit.
While in the shower, I wonder if Kim ever gets lonely. For all her fame and riches, it must get depressing sometimes being treated like a commodity by everyone around you including your own family. My earnings potential never inspired anyone to exploit me. I get a little sad about that. I think about my own exploits on social media, the image I portray to the world. No one wonders if I’m lonely. Maybe they should. Maybe all social media is a cry for help in a lonely world.
Being chased by imaginary paparazzi has taken me to a very introspective place.
7/22/14 – 12:31PM Lunch break
The messages from my manager are constant and stern. There are gigs waiting for me, photo-shoots and ad campaigns. I am in high demand. It’s all coming together with very little work on my part, just like real life. Kim’s proud. She keeps calling. I don’t even remember giving her my digits. She’s something of an omnipotent power in this game. She knows where I am all the time. When she asks how I like her house, there’s only one grammatically dodgy reply I’m allowed to choose. “It’s really big, beautiful…”
The life lessons in the game so far are pretty cynical and gross, as you would expect. I wonder how parents would feel about their tweens learning how to get ahead from a game like this. These lessons are telegraphed specifically. “Wearing nice, new clothes can get you noticed by the media.” “Charming people will get you the best rewards.” The game goes on to instruct that dating the right people will get you noticed, stopping just short of suggesting which sexual positions are most effective.
None of these things are untrue. It’s just kind of hilarious that a smart phone app is here to break the bad news to you in the guise of a languid, fancy Grand Theft Auto that kills time instead of hookers.
When I was 12, I think I was still asking for Legos for my birthday. I can’t imagine being that age now, having a smart phone with all the information of the world at my fingertips. If I had a smart phone in my teens before I knew anything about making good decisions, I would have either been jailed or teeming with STDs.
7/22/14 – 3:55 PM
My ad campaign is trending, and I have a lot of new fans all for doing absolutely nothing. My dead-eyed manager is psyched. If I started to believe my own hype in real life, I could probably parlay this into being a YouTube celebrity. Of course, I’d have to stop eating and pluck every hair on body below my neck. I haven’t had to do that in the game yet, but I wouldn’t be shocked if that’s one of the goals for a C-level celebrity. Alas, I am STILL at level E, the lowest one can go.
This game is so ludicrous and shallow I imagine explaining it to my grandfather who fought in two major wars, just to see his reaction about whether or not fighting for freedom was ultimately worth it.
7/22/14 – 4:31 PM
I stop doing work in my office for a moment and wonder if the game is actually a brilliantly written and orchestrated parody of the absurdity of celebrity life. Is there an Armenian equivalent to Stockholm Syndrome?
7/22/14 8:02 PM
I take back my heteronormative critiques of the game. Kim just asked if I were gay, told me I looked hot, and set me up with a professional basketball player. I question her motives when I recall how Kim fared with pro athletes, but I’m still happy that she’s open to my sexuality. I am disgusted how much my attitude changed for the better, just by being accepted by the cool kids. I am a tenth grader all over again.
I’m now on a date with Stephen where I’m gaining points by flirting, giving him longing glances, and ordering dessert. I’m in such a good place, I don’t even care that someone named Dirk Diamonds is spreading nasty rumors about me!
7/22/14 11:45 PM
If you allow it, the game demands a great deal of your attention. It’s impossible to keep as many balls in the air as Kim expects. If her life is anything like mine in the confines of the game, I’m impressed that she has time for it all. She’s a real profile in courage.
Do you ever feel bad because you have a hard time being happy for other people? I do. Often. Especially as I get older. I wonder why great things that are happening to other people aren’t happening for me. That’s kind of how I feel about the Kardashians. I find them hard to watch because it doesn’t seem fair that a family that’s essentially famous for nothing is rich and famous. They’ll tell you they work hard, but they were all born on third base and think they’ve hit home runs. It bothers me that people look up to them, but I wonder it’s just another petty jealousy I harbor.
Maybe I don’t make enough good things happen for myself. Maybe I need a Kim to show up in my real life and grant my wishes. Maybe I spend too much time on my phone.
7/23/14 7:31 AM
I grow weary of calls from my agent and reminders from Kim that it’s time to have more fun with my date. (It’s not you, Stephen the professional basketball player. It’s me.) I dread feeling my phone vibrate and realizing that the game is calling me back. I think of the game when I’m not playing – not my progress necessarily, but more existentially why all of this is even happening. As a goal-oriented person, part of me desperately wants the affirmation of making it to the D-List celebrity level, but the rest of me knows it’s safer if I abandon the game now.
I’m mostly embarrassed that I don’t hate the game as much as I thought I would. It’s simply inoffensive. Basic tasks wrapped up in pretty colors and familiar faces. Sometimes the game is even hilarious, but I’m uncomfortable that I can’t tell if the game or its creators are in on the joke. If I can’t tell, does that mean I’m not in on the joke? Or maybe by downloading the game, I am the joke? Regardless, I had some fun. I liked telling people I was playing, and I was pleased when they were surprised I would do something so stupid.
Inoffensiveness is how empires like those of the Kardashians or the Real Housewives or the Honey Boo Boos of the world are built. We don’t hate them as much as we think we should, and so we continue to watch. The only thing that’s offensive about it is that there’s no connection at all between their fame and subsequent financial gains and their talent. Most of us are raised to believe that fame or fortune should be earned. In their case it’s not, and that can infuriate us while at the same time providing us hope that it might someday happen to us.
It would take a lot of hubris on one’s part to believe that a game should be made about your everyday life. How many of us could even pull that off? I know I couldn’t. You wouldn’t earn any charm points going to my gym or my job, and you certainly wouldn’t gather any stars taking naps on the couch in your undies.
I’m afraid my life on the E-list will continue indefinitely after I delete the app today. I just won’t be there to witness it. When my avatar and I part ways, I know I’ll leave him in a good place, virtually. He’ll wink at me, and I’ll wink back, knowing that I’ve helped someone on his way. And in this crazy life of photo-shoots and ad campaigns, isn’t that all we can ever hope for?