You should see my partner, the A-List pop star. They’re gorgeous. I show them off to my 40m+ social media fans regularly.
Yeah, that’s a lot of fans. I’m the most popular celebrity in the world right now, in fact. A top model (catwalks and magazines alike) who can swan into restaurants from New York to Paris at a moment’s notice and still grab the best table.
I’m so famous, nobody seems to mind if I leave the house rocking a Dreadful Shorts / Awful Shirt / Embarrassing Mullet look. In fact, that makes me even more popular.
My BFF Kim Kardashian agrees. We’re great mates: sometimes she lets me model her new swimwear collection, or wander around her houses when she’s away. Probably off naked-motorbiking with Kanye again.
Yes, yes, okay. Not real. For “40m+ social media fans” read “a few thousand Twitter followers, many of whom are bots”. For “New York to Paris” read “Bishop’s Stortford to Harlow, except on a Saturday”. And for “Dreadful Shorts” read… Well, actually that part is true.
Also true: I’m quite good at tapping on circles on a touchscreen when I’m told to. Which, happily, has turned out to be the key to achieving global fame and fortune in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood – her official mobile game.
By many standards, it’s Not A Good Game. The central gameplay mechanic involves tapping circles, then waiting a bit for your character to regain their energy, so you can tap on some more circles.
These skills – “tapping” and “waiting” – are all you’ll need for hot dates and high-profile photo-shoots and fashion shows alike. Although this being a freemium game, there’s always the option of switching “waiting” for “paying” if you’re impatient.
It’s less a game in the traditional sense, and more an interactive story, except the interactivity is quite basic, and the story isn’t much cop either: rigidly linear, with basic characters and only a few sharp one-liners to raise a smile.
The Hollywood-and-beyond of this game is a pretty dead-eyed place, too. Everyone you meet is either a potential love interest or a possible career-booster, bar the obligatory nemesis who pops up every so often to bait you.
Parties are a tedious chore, while sponsorships are pretty tiresome too: can you remember the key messaging about that motor oil you agreed to plug to the nearest reporter? Do you care?
This may be what celebrity-land is really like – mobile game as gritty social realism documentary – but it’s not enormously fun. And yet… Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood is a.) hugely popular, b.) very lucrative and c.) very much enjoyed by its players.
It currently has a four-star rating on Android’s Google Play store from more than 245,000 reviews, and a perfect five-star rating on Apple’s US App Store from nearly 200,000 reviews (not to mention five stars in the UK store from more than 36,000 ratings).
Also… I’ve been playing the game since it came out in June, and I’m still playing it.
All that pretend fame and fortune has come through playing, not paying, so I’ve put in the hours tapping (and waiting) too. Even though I’m not quite sure why. When I went away for a week’s holiday in a cottage without Wi-Fi or 3G reception, I missed it.
As the weeks have gone by, the Kim Kardashian game’s quirks have cheered me up rather than made me grimace.
There’s the way pigeons cough up money if you tap them – try this in Trafalgar Square and report back on the results, please. The way every date begins with your partner verbally demolishing your outfit:
There’s the way being BFFs with Kim Kardashian doesn’t extend to constructive criticism of her fashion flair:
The way a hoodie and pink shoes got me 1,875,000 new social media fans:
The way you travel around Los Angeles on the bus, despite the fact that the one time I did this in the real world, during the E3 games conference one year, any American I told about it looked at me with 70% horror and 30% pity:
There’s the way my character Henman fist-pumps when successfully finishing a date (not a euphemism), and the way he looks just like me, except with a better tan, less-British teeth and the ability to suddenly sprout lustrous golden locks like Kid Rock dipped head-first in a bath of Timotei and lemon juice:
On a more serious note, there’s the way you can choose to be gay or straight: a feature introduced without fuss, but which makes Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood more progressive than the way most (not all, thankfully) traditional games address sexuality, if they do at all.
I suspect a lot of people will write Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood off as a vacuous game about a vacuous person, using a cynical business model that preys on stupid players who wouldn’t know a “proper game” if it snogged them on the pillion.
What’s more interesting, though, is that a lot more people appear to be playing the game and really enjoying it. I don’t think they’re stupid: it’s just that what they look for in a game is different.
In 2014, Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood is a “proper game” as much as the latest Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty or Mario Kart; or The Last of Us, Journey or Fez; or Monument Valley, Super Hexagon or Hearthstone, or…
Well, you get the picture. Nowadays, any definition of “proper gaming” is meaningless, while the notion that any particular group of gamers gets to set that definition is ridiculous.
Gaming is a huge, broad church now, and the people swapping sweets or Hollywood fashion tips down the front are blissfully unaware of the angry men in camouflage gear muttering at the back. There’s room for both groups, more so than ever on smartphones and tablets.
(Not to mention the big mass of us in the middle, who would rather chat enthusiastically about the games we love, wherever they come from, than complain about the ones we don’t.)
Is Kim Kardashian: Hollywood a good game? If you hate that sort of thing, no, it’s the sort of thing you hate. Although it might be interesting to spend a week or two dipping in and out of it, to understand why.
The game’s massive audience does encourage questions about the messages it’s sending out, especially to younger players - I’ve had several friends fretting about what their daughters are learning from it, for example.
Progressive messages about sexuality? A step in the right direction. Promotion of a rampantly-consumerist culture where popularity comes from buying expensive outfits, meals and mansions? Less so (although the average teenage girl is quite capable of skewering this aspect better than any adult, I suspect).
Glorifying pigeon-slapping for profit? Needs work.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood could benefit from a sharper script and more willingness – or freedom, which may be the issue given the game’s official status – to poke at the culture it’s representing.
Developer Glu also has plenty of work to do to keep players interested in the long term, through updates to the game. I suspect right now is the time the keenest, earliest players may be feeling they’ve seen everything it currently has to offer, and could drop away if Glu isn’t careful.
(I’m also hoping they’ll send their development team on an away-day to a remote cottage in Dorset for a brainstorming session about “Insistence On Always-On Connectivity In Social Games” too.)
Still, even if the thought of anything Kardashian-related brings you out in hives, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is a surprisingly-moreish snapshot of one way games – yes, proper games! – are evolving in 2014.
The game isn’t popular because the people playing it are stupid. It’s popular because they like it. Who knows, you may even like it too.
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