“I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket; it’s my bar of chocolate. Give it to me now!” — Veruca Salt, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
For those who live in the outer reaches of Earth’s host galaxy, I’m here to inform you Kim Kardashian recently released an iPhone app, titled Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. The influence of IRL Kim – with her 15 million Instagram followers, to whom she initially teased the game’s release – caused the app’s popularity to skyrocket, and it is quickly taking over the Internet, myself having been taken up in the storm. While I had no intention to explore the world of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood for more than an hour or two, it ended up being a week-long, addictive exploration into celebrity, privilege, work ethic, endorsement deals, cheating, and self-deprecation.
My avatar began its journey as a tan (if somewhat anemic-looking, just like me) young upstart working in the So Chic boutique in Downtown LA. Lo and behold, Kim K wanted a dress from my store! I felt special already. I gave it to her free of charge. Thus, my brush with fame turned into a quest toward absolute superstardom built on a foundation of schemes, deals, and strategic career moves. Advancing in the glitzy, sanitized universe of KK:H is predicated on doing whatever it takes to get to the top. Exploring a pseudo-biographical stumble toward fame mirrored Kim’s life in a lot of ways, bolstered by the frankly hilarious (and whip smart) self-deprecation and cultural references built into the game’s dialogue that non-fans of Kim might not grasp immediately. Kim mentions a “momager” early on in the game, and my eventual manager Simon gasps “Yeezus!” when I scare him in his office. Kardashian and the developers at Glu (the maker of the game) are obviously in on the joke.
I pushed ahead. Virtually.
Clever allusions to Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
With the built-in limitations that plague all free games, it is extremely laborious and difficult to advance in KK: H without purchasing coins (known as KStars), cash, or energy as an in-app purchase. While before I diligently managed my time and put my game down and went about my life while my virtual energy accumulated, if I was willing to shell out, I could buy as much energy as I wanted. If I left my game alone overnight, my full energy allowed me to fly through an eight-hour photo shoot in five minutes. It took about four or five days for me to reach the A-list for free: I had 11.7 million fans, Kim was calling me more than ever, and I felt genuinely proud that I conquered the Minotaur in the maze of celebrity, even though it was located in the small world of an iPhone game meant to generate more revenue and fame for the Kardashian empire.
The game changed instantly when I realized that I could cheat the system. On June 9th, I discovered a way to jailbreak the app and gain (literally) unlimited resources. I could have endless amounts of cash, maximum energy at all times, and more KStars than I could ever spend. Soon I had a fully furnished loft apartment, a Range Rover with pink trim, and a cat named Charli. No longer would I stoop so low as to take the bus around Southern California. The world was mine. I wanted it now.
This is when I began to see a different side of the game, and a different side of fame itself. Much like real life, it’s an annoying, arduous, and energy-sapping struggle towards the elusive goal of celebrity when you’re broke. It took me lightyears longer to reach the A-list when I didn’t have money. After the hack, I was an A-lister within half an hour. In this new world, cash was social currency. I bought lavish mansions in Calabasas and beachfront property in Mexico’s Punta Mita resort. People loved me because I bought them expensive clothes. I did charity work because it was my duty as an A-list celebrity in the public eye. I was in my peak. And I was bored. The game became frustrating and dull. The app’s updated Mexico location wasn’t enough. I yearned to see the fruits of my labor rather than shuffle from assignment to assignment. There was no satisfaction other than Kim’s voiceover dialogue, in all her fantastic vocal fry glory, speaking to me to say, “You’re awesome!” and “I’m so excited!”
I woke up on June 10th to find that my fame hit a wall: I peaked at 68.8 million fans and I was the #1 most popular celebrity in the world. However, I completed so much in so little time that the game crashed, bombarded by the game’s Twitter updates announcing new fans. I deleted the app, wincing as all of my progress evaporated. For awhile, I felt like Kim Kardashian in her fledgling years. Though I realized I felt more like Willy Wonka’s Veruca Salt, always wanting more and bored with my hyper-privileged lifestyle. While the game is designed as an extension of Kim’s brand and another outlet from which she can gain revenue – projected at a possible $200 million in 2014 alone – the literal cost of becoming famous in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is an unintentionally priceless piece of cultural commentary.