Whether we like it or not, when it comes to Kim Kardashian, we’re all, in a sense, amateur Kardiologists.
We know about the reality show, the sex tape, the quickie marriage to an NBA star, Kanye West and the Kimya wedding. We’re told she’s a fashion designer, model, actress, socialite and blogger. We see she’s a wearer of bikinis.
Still, why Kim Kardashian is famous is a mystery.
“I do not know what she does,” Stephen Colbert joked on his Comedy Central show this week, echoing the thoughts of many of us. When someone’s primary expertise is omnipresence, the more we know, the less we actually learn.
But we’re getting more insight from Kim’s latest and more unlikely role as a rather convincing video game character.
“Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” a free-to-play mobile game by the reality star, is one of the more refreshingly honest critiques of our city and the celebrity culture it feeds. Released in late June for Apple and Android devices, the game has been a constant in Apple’s most-downloaded app charts. Developer Glu Mobile announced this week that “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” generated $1.6 million in its first five days of release.
And, yes, a game involving a Kardashian does at first warrant a roll of the eyes.
“Dating famous people will get you more fans,” the game tells us after loading. Moments later it informs us that pets are good for our self-image. Later, it educates us on the three things that matter when it comes to success: “Exposure, exposure, exposure!”
Still, as vapid as it all seems, it doesn’t take long for it all to ring uncomfortably true.
The premise is simple. Players create a svelte character, male or female, and it arrives preordained as a future tabloid-worthy celeb. The rest of the game consists of climbing to the A-list and navigating the world as a famous person.
Kim is in the game, popping up regularly to dispense advice or give players rewards, acting as a sort of Clarence Odbody for the severely self-interested. She’s our celebrity guardian angel, letting us know when it’s time to get an agent or get a date (a Kim-approved date, as she has a contact list filled with both “sporty girls” and “the artistic kind”).
“Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” is cleverly designed to offer us a look behind the curtain. It gives us a glimpse at strategizing conversations with publicists, and it lets us in on some ace talking points for dates (hint: famous authors). We have run-ins with catty paparazzi, and celebrity bloggers are viewed as low-life celebrities themselves.
But after playing a harangued celebrity for a while, I began to feel empathy for Kim, a person who formerly represented all that can be disdainful about our gossip-obsessed culture.
That’s because “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” shows us that being a star 24/7 is kind of a drag. The game is a sort of virtual Trojan Horse, where we all realize that despite the glamour and the cash, the Kardashians must live under the microscope or risk obscurity.
Make a seemingly innocent remark, and wait for it to be misinterpreted on the Internet. What to wear, when to text, where to dine and what to tweet become monumental decisions when the game (like the press and social media) is constantly grading your every move as indicator of social status.
In this sense, the game exaggerates our unfortunate reliance on image and the minute-by-minute quest for attention. It’s a pursuit that’s at the core of our social media age — the exact infrastructure that keeps, say, Kim Kardashian in daily headlines despite the fact that she rarely generates any real news.
It’s worth noting that “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” may just be the most enlightened video game released yet this year for the simple reason that it treats same-sex couples as the norm. “So you didn’t flirt with that guy at the Brew Palms,” Kim told my female avatar, Kes, early in the game. “Not interested in him, or maybe you’re looking to meet women?”
And it’s smart. When a gossip-monger trashed Kes on the Internet, mocking her relationship with Kim as fake, she did so with the following in-game tweet: “Total conspiracy! #Illuminati #Obamacare.”
These topical and progressive flourishes make up for some of the game’s less-becoming traits, namely the pressure to buy in-app purchases (the game may be fun, but you didn’t expect Kim to be altruistic, did you?). You’ll need energy to schmooze because being a star is draining.
And if you truly want to ascend from the D-list to the A-list you’ll probably need to buy some energy boosts using the game’s currency — shiny and silver “K” stars which can be slowly accrued or paid for with real-life cash.
Looking into “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood” is to be the Evil Queen peering into a Magic Mirror that’s reflecting a disheartening truth. There’s always someone fairer in a world where our own Twitter feeds and Instagram portraits have twisted our daily lives into small-scale reality shows. And we can’t stop watching.
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