I sort of beat Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. If you haven’t been following along, that would be Kim K’s iPhone game — the one that’s inexplicably addictive, potentially bankrupting, set to make $200 million this year, and which serves a dual purpose as a surprisingly straightforward Kardashian Fame Manual that would likely work if you had the available resources (e.g., a money tree and a fairy godmother named Kim).
By “sort of beat,” I mean that my avatar is the #1 star on the A-List (in my own game world — meaning you could also be #1 in yours). I have 68.8 million fans, which is the game’s maximum. I’ve completed acting gigs, posed for countless photo shoots, walked fashion runways, and have been recognized on the street for my work promoting motor oil, sneakers, and (generic) vitamin water. Before you judge me too hard, I want you to know I have spent ZERO dollars of actual money getting to this place. Just hours and hours of my own time, which, come to think of it, is probably worse.
During the month I’ve spent in Kim’s virtual world, I’ve seen flickers of a very deep sadness, things I tried to shrug off as self-aware little quirks of the game. First, as many others have pointed out, there’s the fact that when you complete tasks, tapping on the bubbles that say “Pose together” or “Check digital prints,” money and stars shoot out of the bubbles and fall to the floor, leaving you to crawl around and gather it all up. It feels not unlike the scene in Flashdance where Alex pulls her naked friend Jeanie out of the strip club where she’s been working, and Jeanie’s dollar bills fall all over the soaking-wet ground. “Those are mine!” she sobs, pathetically grabbing the dollars before they slide into the sewer.
Jeanie had a choice, but choice is essentially nonexistent in the world of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. When my agent Simon offered me my first acting gig, he told me I had to meet with a shady dude in an apartment designed to look like a hotel room in order to get it. Simon knew it didn’t sound quite right, and I knew it, too, judging from the uneasy ellipsis at the end of my response.
Pretty early in the game, you have to do a naked photo shoot “for the art,” as the Mario Testino lookalike photographer, Marcel Tesiano, says. There’s a vague shadow of a choice here, but as a Bustle writer discovered after playing twice, saying “Yes” once and “getting advice from Kim” the second time, choosing not to get naked really hurts your career. The best thing about this scenario is that when it’s time to bare it all, you just click the bubble that says “Disrobe” and that’s that. Your avatar stays clothed, looking at her nails as usual. Naked, not naked, it’s all the same. You never have to act out the tasks you’re ostensibly completing. In fact, you can’t.
Obviously, finishing all these gigs gets you money. Once, I had to offer to do a photo shoot for free, as a favor. The benefit for me was supposed to be publicity, and it seemed cool to use my modeling skills for charity. But when the gig was complete, money flew at me anyway! It wasn’t from the woman I was helping out; it just came from some unseen god within the game itself. This, in a way, mirrors a fact of Kardashian life: even if the Dash dolls want to do something “for charity,” if the event is filmed for their show, they’re still getting paid, whether they’re truly trying to do something kind or not. (You might say, “Then don’t film it,” but — get real.)
What can you do with all this not-quite-hard-earned money? You can buy homes, furniture, outfits, and people’s affection. Even “Deep conversation” costs money in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.
Homes are a big puzzle. Your publicist forces you to buy multiple apartments in California, plus a mansion in Miami. I furnished them, but it’s not like The Sims, where you can not only pick out your furniture but also use it. Homes have absolutely no purpose. You can’t bring dates there, you can’t recharge your mysterious “energy” levels (you can, however, buy more energy with K Coins, which cost real money). You feel the need to buy all of this stuff, but you can’t use any of it.
Clothes matter, though. Buying an expensive outfit can get you more fans instantly (until you max out). Every single person you date starts every single date by commenting on your outfit, and usually it’s along the lines of, “I wish you cared to put a little more effort into your outfit.” Once, I wore the same outfit on two separate dates with the same person. The first time, they told me I looked horrible. The second time: “Wow, you look great!” Nothing matters. You have no control over anything.
Relationships matter, but fidelity doesn’t. Once you go on enough dates with someone, they’ll ask you to be exclusive, but the game doesn’t hold you to that. Kim even set me up on a date with someone new, specifically to be photographed by the paparazzi, even though I was already in two exclusive relationships. Surely, I thought, I’d get caught, lose a few thousand fans, and thus have a reason to keep playing. Nope.
When you’re not at work or on a date, the only things to do are wander and search for money. You can wander to Kim’s mansion and look for her, just to hang out (she’s never there, unless she calls you first). Or, you can simply wander around, tapping on objects, because some of them — pigeons, seagulls, mailboxes, whiskey bottles — have a couple dollars or a bolt of energy hidden inside. Before I figured out exactly which objects held the secret money, I would tap all over the screen, picturing a gaggle of frantic Kardashians scattered around the city in an Easter egg hunt, tapping on every object in sight to see if it might be profitable.
In these wanderings, you start to see the same bland characters in the usual haunts. The same facial features in different combinations, the same outfits with a few different accessories. “I hope we run into each other again soon!” they squeal as you walk away, but not before you snatch up the big pink heart this interaction yields. Because what are people but stepping stones to fame?
I won’t go too far into how the game has made my real life sadder, except to say that my gut reaction when looking at an actual New York pigeon was to smack it to get money, which made me feel more like a meth head than a Kardashian. I wondered aloud once what life would be like if I could get “energy and rewards” from my actual cat, and my unamused (frankly, horrified) roommate warned me about “those people” who get sucked into games like Second Life and neglect their living, breathing families. That reminded me to feed my cat.
I’m still playing this stupid, wonderful game, because I don’t know how to stop, and because I still feel a little bit giddy when Kim calls me to say I did a good job on something. But I remain haunted by all of this creeping despair, and especially by something a character I met at LIF recently told me: “I’m Brianna, and I’m a paramedic — which actually takes some skill.”