GTA games depict a lifestyle that no one actually adopts out here in the real world. No one wakes up in the morning, barrels down thick crowds of pedestrians on a sidewalk, takes on the city’s assembled police force with rocket launchers and chain guns, and then calls it a day, to rinse and repeat tomorrow.
Kim Kardashian Hollywood, on the other hand, while still an abstraction, does depict a lifestyle that Americans have lived, do live, and will dream about living well into the future. If critics fear the influence that GTA might have on American life, those same people should be seeking to pass legislation to ban Kim Kardashian Hollywood, whose influence is far more insidious.
Just how bad is the game? I got plastered enough to try and find out.
Kim Kardashian Hollywood was released on July 8. It’s a re-skin of Glu Mobile’s game Stardom: Hollywood, meaning surface-level elements have been swapped out to create an entirely new game. As the next-best symbol of the vapidity of Hollywood culture to Paris Hilton, Kardashian is admittedly the perfect icon to attach to a game like Stardom: Hollywood.
You begin as an employee of So Chic Boutique, folding clothes and adjusting mannequins, shortly after choosing your avatar. Apparently one cannot be fat and be famous, as all the avatar choices are skinny. You can, however, choose various genders and races. And the single, redeeming quality of Kim Kardashian Hollywood I discovered is that when it comes time to start dating people, you may choose to be gay. (That said, your avatar, no matter how constructed, still winds up acting shallow, trite, and lifeless during the game.)
You first help Kardashian out by reopening the store after closing, as she is on her way to a photo shoot and needs to replace the shirt she’s ripped. Kardashian decides to help you out, in turn, as you ascend the ladder of Hollywood fame from the E-list to the A-list, through modeling gigs, catwalk appearances, movie roles, and manipulation of the paparazzi.
To call Kim Kardashian Hollywood a “game” would be generous. There are no puzzles, skill challenges, or conversations that require careful navigation through dialogue choices, or anything else that would require neurons to fire or muscles to flex. You don’t actually do anything other than tap on little circles, or word bubbles, or progress bars attached to tasks you need to complete. For example, a “photo shoot” consists of tapping on dots that represent grabbing a drink, checking your makeup, changing your wardrobe, or posing for a profile shot.
Your avatar doesn’t actually do anything, either. You just tap on the dot, and a little bar opens up showing you how many more times you must tap on the dot in order to complete the task, with a little icon showing you how much energy it will take to do so.
This is where the monetization comes in. “Energy” is one of the banes of social gaming. Energy recharges itself over time, but if you don’t feel like waiting that long to tap on some dots, you can spend real-world money for more energy immediately!
You make money by completing modeling gigs or catwalk runs or whatever, and can spend your cash on hairstyles or clothing that enhance the star power you accrue at gigs or your romance skills as you sleep your way to the top. If that sounds like too much work, you can just spend more real money.
It’s as vapid an exercise, as far as video games go, as Farmville, the quintessential example of the social gaming disease run amuck—a search for “whales” who drop irresponsible amounts of money into the game, playing into the same impulses and brain patterns that motivate human beings into the worst of gambling addictions. At least, in Farmville, however, you’re pretending to grow food, an activity which has some sort of intrinsic value. Kim Kardashian Hollywood offers no such reassurance.
Surely it would be more enjoyable if I could just take the edge off, right? No such luck.
The experience was akin to being at a party and meeting someone terribly obnoxious who gets in your face and fails to pick up on your social cues. The more you drink, the more annoying they get, and the more difficult it becomes to remain patient until you can get the hell out of there.
Having an inkling as to the quality of experience that awaited me in Kim Kardashian Hollywood, I had named my avatar “Jrkoff.” (That’s also my custom license plate in Grand Theft Auto Online, by the way.) What was clearly a puerile attempt at humor felt increasingly appropriate as the experience of playing Kim Kardashian Hollywood dragged on.
When I meet my agent, Simon Orsin, he tells me: “Keep your head down – or up… or wherever the photographers want it! – work hard, and you’ll go from nobody to being on the fringe of the public’s mind in no time. Exposure, exposure, exposure!”
Orsin is willing to take me on for something called “YOLO.” His daughter says that, Orsin says. She is 14, he confides. “Maybe you’ll meet her someday,” he adds. The comment, in the context of this game, makes me very uncomfortable.
I cross a celeb named “Dirk Diamonds,” who then starts talking smack about Kim Kardashian and me. Apparently I need a publicist to help me prevent my image, and hers, from being smeared.
When I go see the publicist, Maria Holmes, she offers to engage in some good, old-fashioned cyberbullying my way of handling my problem with Dirk Diamonds. No big deal, right?
Then she advises me to go and date some attractive people by way of garnering some positive attention. This should be easy, Holmes advises me, because “the city is filled with lonely, if not desperate people.”
The dating scene consists of clicking empty (!) dialogue bubbles and then networking or flirting with people. It was impossible to find anyone who had even a sliver of a redeeming quality. Unless you have the right amount of fame stars—and there’s no way in hell anyone would unless they spend real money to get them—people brush you away like dandruff off their shoulders.
Shagging each other to make connections, playing into the vapidity of fashion, dehumanizing other people for not being famous enough, carrying on the same sort of interpersonal dramas that a well-adjusted adult really should have left behind them in high school: It’s enough to drive you to the drink if you’re not there already.
The last straw occurs when I encounter a lost kitten on the street. In real life, this is the kind of magic opportunity I would cherish. I’ve visited several animal shelters over the years where I’ve met a cat who needed a home, took them into mine, and had an experience that enriched me beyond words.
When I try to adopt the cat in the game, however, I don’t have enough fame stars. Apparently in Kim Kardashian Hollywood, even animals blow you off if you’re not famous enough.
The first kind thing I’ve been able to do in this game, and I can’t do it unless I spend $5 to buy more fame stars. No, thank you. I’m out.
No amount of drinking is worth this.