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I Lost It at the App Store: Cyberbullying, Relationships, and Cute Outfits in 'Kim Kardashian: Hollywood'

By Jose Gallegos | /Bent August 21, 2014 at 11:08AM

The game exists in delusional bubble where the only semblance of reality lies in its representations of cyberbullying, its emphasis on consumerist culture, and its depictions of unhealthy relationships.
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"Kim Kardashian: Hollywood"
"Kim Kardashian: Hollywood"

From the reactions of friends and coworkers learning that I was playing “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood,” you would have thought that I told them I had repeatedly slapped an infant child: my boyfriend was aggravated whenever I mentioned working part-time at “Kardash,” my friends would ignore me when I discussed flying to Paris for a photo shoot, and one coworker even asked me, “Have you contemplated killing yourself since you started this game?” In spite of the hostile criticisms I faced, I continued playing because I am a masochist for punishment and love trashy media. Don’t get me wrong, this game in no way, shape, or form is actually good, but it’s addicting because of its own set of sadistic tendencies.

You enter the Kim Kardashian world by choosing your gender, assigning yourself a name, and designing your own avatar (whose body is either slim, slender, or toned; there are no options for average sized or plus sized). The game begins in So Chic, a Downtown LA fashion boutique where your boss, Luther Alexander, has forced you to close up the shop by yourself. While locking up the store, you meet Kim Kardashian, who trekked all the way from Beverly Hills to buy a dress for a photo shoot. Not having any other option than to reopen the store, Kim asks you to choose a dress for her (either silver or red), then strong-arms you into giving her the dress for free (the game offers you no other alternative). As a result of your forced generosity, Kim invites you to join her at an exclusive photo shoot where you catch the eye of the photographer. From this point on, you must slowly climb up the celebrity food chain (you begin on the “E-List” and must eventually become “A-List”). Kim helps you by getting you a manager, a publicist, and even a romantic interest (thus giving you the option to choose your sexuality). Her initial guidance lulls you into a false sense of comfort, but once Kim ventures off to her into her own virtual life, you are left to navigate the treacherous waters of the celebrity world.

In order to become an “A-List” celebrity, you need to go on a series of missions that range from completing photo shoots and walking the runway to appearing at clubs and going on dates. While on a mission, you must tap on an infinite amount task bubbles within a given time frame (between 1 hour and 24 hours). Each task bubble requires a certain number of “energy” (blue thunderbolts that regenerate every five minutes, although you can find them in the virtual streets by tapping on birds, fire hydrants, and shrubbery). Once you use up the required amount of energy, the task bubble bursts into blue stars (if you are working) or pink hearts (if you are on a date). Did I mention that these missions are graded on a five-star/heart meter, and you must collect dozens of blue stars/pink hearts in order to get a good rating? When the mission is completed, money starts flying around the room and you must – like a stripper – collect your wadded cash from the floor. If you are having a difficult time following the logic of this game, just imagine how hard it was for me to try to narrate any semblance of coherent logic.

The one thing I learned from a month of actively playing the game is that the ancillary characters are mercilessly rude/verbally abusive cyberbullies. For instance, if you don’t achieve a four or five star rating on a mission, Ray Powers (the local celebrity gossiper) will tweet about how horribly you did, thus lowering your celebrity status. You also have an enemy named Dirk who will constantly talk trash about you in order to lower your ranking (at one point in the game, he helped spread a rumor that I destroyed a celebrity relationship by twerking on someone’s girlfriend; this rumor lowered my rank from the “A-List” to the “B-List”). These characters force you go on more photo shoots, adopt pets, go on dates, and buy more clothes, even if you don’t have the resources to do so. Fortunately, the game constantly boasts advertisements that you can complete missions faster if you buy virtual money/Kim K Stars (there is no logic as to why the game has two forms of currency) with your real money.

Your romantic interests offer you little to no solace from the cyberbullying as they themselves have frequent mood swings. The game gives you the option to flirt and/or network with various other celebrities whose status is either higher or lower than yours. If you rank at or above their level, they will gladly give you their contact information for a future date/photo shoot. If you rank beneath them, you have to pay them Kim K Stars in order to get their attention.

Even after I established my virtual homosexuality, the game continued to skew toward heterosexual dating. I managed to find seven gay men (compared to the 29 women who flirted by asking me to indulge in their D&D/LARPing fantasies) who range from a redheaded daddy wearing a pearl necklace to a mustachioed blond daddy wearing a tank top/scarf combo. These characters flirt with you by commenting on your personality and/or appearance, yet the moment you ask them out on a date, they criticize you for your outfits (“I’m guessing it’s laundry day and you couldn’t find anything better to wear…,” “I thought we were both going to dress up for our date. I guess I was wrong,” “Wow, you’re not even trying to impress me, are you?”). If you have a high enough rating by the end of the date, your romantic interest will be more interested in pursuing a relationship…but there is still a catch. In order to maintain a relationship, you must go on a date once a day, every single day. Missing a day results in your love interest calling you with an ultimatum: breakup or pay him 5-17 Kim K Stars to continue the relationship. So far, 6 men have broken up with me (there is the option for reconciliation after the breakup, but it costs 5-17 Kim K Stars).

My problem with the game (which is, ironically, the reason why I am so addicted to it) is the lack of any coherent logic. The game exists in delusional bubble where the only semblance of reality lies in its representations of cyberbullying, its emphasis on consumerist culture, and its depictions of unhealthy relationships. Apparently I’m not the only one to be sucked into the game’s emotionally manipulative design as the Los Angeles Times reported that the game is estimated to gross nearly $200 million in revenue by next summer (I’m sure Kim Kardashian will get her “fair share” of the earnings). For as much (deserved) criticism Kim Kardashian receives for her morals and actions, you have to hand it to her for choosing (or having her mom-ager choose) the right investment opportunities. She latched herself onto a game that encrypted cyberbullying rhetoric into its design, thus ensuring that tons of players will get frustrated and pay real money in order to go on a virtual date or walk down a virtual runway. Fortunately I resisted spending a single penny on the game because I learned to be patient with (and often times find humor in) the game’s cyberbullying (mainly due to the hostility I received for playing the game in the first place). My motto is this: If I don’t have to pay 5-17 Kim K Stars to hear my friends and coworkers talk about how I’m wasting my life on this hot mess of a game, why am I going to pay my hard earned money just to hear virtual celebrities criticize me for how I’m wasting my life by not buying new clothes? I guess that’s what helped get me to #1 on the A-List.

This article is related to: Gayming