It’s a controversial opinion, but I enjoy keeping up with the Kardashians.
I think that the family is fascinating for a number of reasons, but what I find most interesting is how the public interacts with the family. This dynamic has changed recently, due to the attack and robbery in Paris, but over the past decade, love them or hate them, everyone has been involved with the Kardashian clan in one form or another.
One of the easiest ways to interact with the Kardashian conglomerate is by playing the mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. This game was crazy successful when it came out, for good reason: it’s addicting and it’s familiar. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to play this game, but it was a game that I wanted to keep playing.
One of the biggest problems in the game is the sheer number of advertisements you come across. There are pop-ups, videos you can watch to get more energy lightning bolts, and even designer brands as outfits and make-up that you can buy to make the NPCs like you more.
Now, this sounds annoying–and it is–but it’s also kind of brilliant. Who interacts with the Kardashians to get away from consumerism and celebrity culture? No one. That’s what they have built their success on, and it’s why people like them. The ads are a very meta part of the game. You can’t become a brilliant scientist or writer or activist in this game. You are playing to become a celebrity. You’re certainly doing things to increase your fame (acting, modeling, dating, etc), but really you’re just getting famous for making yourself into a brand.
Another weirdly brilliant aspect of the game is that you have to stretch yourself too thin and fail at things unless you want to put real-world resources into the game. You can’t really play the game for any significant length of time without paying for coins or lightning bolts. As a result, you’re going to suck at some things. I’m fine with paying a small amount of money (usually about three dollars) for an in-game item that’s not impossible to get, but is nice to have more of. A great example of this is the gold fish in Neko Atsume. I love that game and have a lot of fun playing it, so I bought gold fish for a few dollars. You can get them in the game, but they do come at a slower rate. I see it as a tip to the game developers for making a good game.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood does not fulfill this requirement, however. I didn’t put any money into it, so it was a bit of a slog through the first few levels before I could get enough lightning bolts with long enough event times to do anything of real significance. The other issue/feature is that you often have to do multiple events at once. And, with the scarcity of lightning bolts, this tends to be difficult. Usually in the game, I’m doing an appearance as well as trying to date my new boyfriend (I got broken-up with a lot for being too neglectful). If I had to pick, I would pick career, but the game forces you to do both. It’s both a ploy into getting more money from players buying lightning bolts and a part of the message of the game.
If anything, the game has a really strong message, and that message is “celebrity sucks, but look at all these pretty things.” I don’t know if I would say I had fun while playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. NPCs said mean things to me like “If you were a movie, you’d be the third in a series because it’s always the least popular.” But I think I gained a new perspective by playing this game. This game is so representative of the Kardashians and celebrity culture, and that’s especially significant because it goes with my theory that how we treat the Kardashians is so representative of how we treat women.
This is an elegant game. That’s why Kim is now recognized as a tech mogul. It’s why she is invited to speak at major tech conferences. And the game perfectly emulates why at those conferences, people talk mostly about what she wore. I don’t know if or how many of these meta aspects of the game are intentional, but, for me, they definitely improve gameplay.
What’s most interesting about this is the dynamics that come from a female-led mobile game that focuses on various aspects of femininity and what is expected of women. Though your avatar can be male or female (and you can date men or women in the game), you’re still expected to be a fashion and lifestyle icon, which are often women in real life. Even part of Kim’s own success can be attributed to the women in her family. Her mother is an extremely savvy manager, and her sisters all help to run the Kardashian empire. Though her initial fame can be attributed to her father and the OJ Simpson trial or her sex tape (for which she has been slut shamed for over a decade now), she and all of her sisters have managed to sustain their success and be the hottest topic far after the “celebutant” trend in the early 2000’s.
It’s also significant that she takes on a friendship or helper role in the game. It’s great to see that she’ll use her success to help out you out in the game. And, since most mobile gamers are women, that’s women helping women. I’m sure a fair amount of gamers would consider this game vapid or not a real game, but, clearly, with its wild success and the ever-growing popularity of mobile games, it’s a new way of participating in gaming culture: one that allows underrepresented groups to decide what “being a gamer” means.