Kim Kardashian Hollywood is a free app available for OS and Android, and it kind of seems like everybody is playing it. It’s pretty much what it sounds like—you’re vying for fame in the wealthiest parts of Los Angeles, trying to make that A-List.
Disclaimer—I played this game for only about an hour. I’m pretty sure I got the gist of it, but who knows? Maybe at some point down the road, the story will take a turn and I’ll have to make some tough personal decisions involving the ethics of wealth and beauty.
Shh, I can dream, right? Edit: apparently you do have to decide at one point whether to take nude photographs in order to earn more fame.)
So why didn’t I love Kim Kardashian Hollywood? Let’s start with the ads. They are ubiquitous. They are impossible to avoid clicking on, since they swoop in full-screen unannounced. They crashed the app twice and the second time I had to restart my phone. There are also many options to connect your social media accounts, which are mostly just obnoxious to me but to younger kids could be tempting and potentially risky. Perhaps more importantly, doing too many actions causes your character to run out of energy, and buying more energy is not cheap, as Jezebel writer Tracie Egan Morrissey discovered after she spent almost $500 to become famous. Recharging energy without paying for it takes time, and apparently people really are paying for it—the game stands to make $200 million in revenue this year. It was the second most-downloaded free game in the App Store; it’s now the third.
Those annoyances aside, however, the main reason I don’t like this game is because it’s too easy. I mean that both in the mechanical sense and in the figurative sense. Mechanically, you just tap on things repeatedly in order to perform actions or collect rewards.
Figuratively, the story doesn’t offer anything of more substance than the tapping. More on that in a minute.
That isn’t to say it’s a bad game. It’s actually pretty entertaining. You see, I’m a sucker for roleplaying games—choosing whether to be nice or mean (always nice), watching my character level up with my favored stats, “interacting” with other characters. I love character customization, even if it’s just picking from a few hairstyles and choosing between heels or flats. (Well, okay. You can’t choose flats.) I adore fashion, whether it’s me wearing the clothes or my avatar, and this game is, ostensibly, all about fashion. A specific brand of fashion, of course, but still fashion.
Let’s backtrack a little. What the game is supposed to be about is the balance between a professional career and a social life, both of which—in turn—will help you make the A-List. An interesting premise, especially since it’s something young women struggle with immensely when they enter the professional world. Your character starts out as a lowly clerk in a clothing store in Hollywood. One afternoon, right as you’re closing up, Kim Kardashian shows up needing a favor. You, of course, help her out, since she’s Kim Kardashian. (You help her by offering her a new dress free of charge, which would probably bankrupt most of us lowly peons, if it didn’t get us fired or thrown in jail for theft, but hey. It’s a fantasy.) At that point Kim, who is apparently your new best friend, gets you a gig as a model and invites you to a networking party. You spend the next hour doing photoshoots, meeting people, going on dates, and making professional connections.
Essentially, this game should be everything I love about RPGs—I get to use charisma and kindness to generate goodwill so that everybody adores me, and I get to wear pretty clothes. It’s a perfect fantasy for somebody who hasn’t actually ever been an adult—the stuff of dreams for the middle-school crowd.
I can see my 12-year-old self daydreaming about somebody famous walking up to me and handing me a modeling career and a date with a pretty girl. I mean, even my 12-year-old self wasn’t under any delusions that it was probable, but most tweens and teens are desperate for somebody to tell them that things get easier, that they’ll be loved and respected and have lots of friends and go on dates, and Kim Kardashian Hollywood is the epitome of wish fulfillment in that sense.
That isn’t to say wish fulfillment is always bad, but this one is…tricky. It’s not the idea of games providing an easy daydream to kids that bothers me—it’s the fact that this particular dream shouldn’t be the only one we offer young girls. It’s nice, right? Become beautiful! Wait for people to give you jobs! Make money! Use that money to become even more beautiful! We promise, if you just become beautiful enough, everybody will love you.
(This doesn’t end well. Trust me.)
To be fair, the game does have some positives. For one, there are quite a few people of color wandering around LA (though the mid-range skin tones get a little lobster-y), and you can choose whether you’d like to date men or women, though there doesn’t seem to be an option for both or neither. My new best friend Kim Kardashian was very sweet and set me up with a “sporty” woman she knew. It was either that or “artistic.” Supposedly I could bribe Kim into letting me try to woo some mysterious third option, but I didn’t want to spend my Kim Stars on that. (I was saving up for a new hairdo.)
Okay, I know what you’re all saying—it’s Kim Kardashian Hollywood. What was I expecting? And that’s fair. Maybe I just have a dream that someday, someone will make a game revolving around fashion, beauty, fame, and social activity that actually addresses what those things mean in terms of gender constructs, culture, and wealth. Maybe I want Kim Kardashian Hollywood to be more because I believe that an idea that provides such an incredible fantasy to teenage girls around the world can be more.
Or maybe I’m getting too deep. I mean, it’s Kim Kardashian Hollywood.