I’VE GOT DARK circles under my eyes and mild cramping in my thumbs. My eyes are dry and the left one keeps twitching and I can barely keep them open, but I can’t go to sleep yet, not when I’m so close to making it to the B-list. The f***ing B-list. This is what the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood app has done to me. I haven’t felt so invested in a game, or anything, really, since I was playing Oregon Trail on Windows 98 on my friend’s dad’s computer. I know it’s just a game, it doesn’t actually mean anything in real life. But I really want that virtual vacation home in Punta Mita. I’ve already come this far. I’m no quitter.
Don’t look at me. I’M A MONSTER.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is the latest smartphone app developed by Glu Mobile to use a celebrity tie-in in order to compete with the likes of Candy Crush and Angry Birds in an already saturated market. The object of the game is, basically, to become Kim Kardashian. Players choose an avatar to represent them and must work their way up from a lowly, unknown E-list celebrity to the top of the A-list, loosely following Kardashian’s own career trajectory and experiences. (Remember in KUWTK Season 1, Episode 1 when Kim said she was a “wardrobe stylist?” LOOK how far shes’s come.)
You begin the game as an employee at a boutique in downtown Los Angeles, but a chance encounter with Kim sets you off on the path towards fame, your ultimate goal (oh, also world domination). You’ll book modeling gigs and make promotional appearances with the help of your manager while wearing and virtually buying versions of Kardashian’s real-life outfits. You can fly to Vegas (for $15), buy a loft in Tribeca, and claw your way to the top despite encounters with rude paparazzi and your obnoxious celebrity nemesis, Willow Pape. Kardashian appears every now and then as a virtual fairy godmother to guide players and provide encouragement. Sometimes she gives you free clothes. It’s an empty, sad, superficial virtual existence that will chew you up and spit you out when you’ve reached the top of the A-list and there’s nothing left but your fake money and 50,000 fake fans. And the realization that you’ve most likely spent an embarrassing amount of actual money and actual time on this basic-ass game that you’ll never get back.
According to Tim Bradshaw of Financial Times, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood made $1.6 million in its first five days on sale this past June, and it’s been compared to Candy Crush in terms of its ridiculously high levels of game addiction potential — a very real thing. The app is estimated to rake in around $200 million by the end of the year, which doesn’t make a lot of sense for an app that’s free to download, but that’s because Kim Kardashian: Hollywood isn’t entirely free. It’s free to download, yes, but technically it’s a “freemium” app. The game is designed in a way that will make it really, incredibly frustrating to play, unless you pull out your credit card. And you will.
Or at least you will think long and hard about whether you can justify dropping almost $500 on a smartphone game. What other choice is there, really? When a player’s avatar runs out of “energy” to complete the tasks that will get them the virtual money they need to buy the virtual cars and clothes necessary to advance in the game (and in the Kardashian universe), they can’t move forward and get stuck waiting for the “energy” to recharge. Unless, of course, the player buys more “money” or “energy” with very real money and energy.
There are ways to get around having to spend real money to advance in the game, but none of the options are very appealing. Players can watch short ads in exchange for one Kardashian Koin, but it doesn’t seem like a fair trade off since you can’t get much in the game with one K Koin anyway. If a player watches several consecutive ads in a row, the game eventually catches on and eliminates that option so that they can only get more K Koins by downloading and opening one of a wide selection of terrible apps no one would ever want. The only other option besides questionable-looking cheat codes and hacking apps is to play a totally free game at a painfully slow pace, which is sheer torture, and it’s supposed to be. And playing the mind-numbingly addictive game in ten-minute increments, while free of charge, is enough to drive anyone to their credit card if only to preserve their own sanity.
If you’ve already considered all the alternatives to paying money for the game, it’s because you’ve probably become so entrenched in it, and so annoyed with the incessant ads, that you don’t want to wait, and at that point the game stops being virtual and starts involving very real money. The app is made to draw you in, get you hooked and ultimately get you to break down because you MUST. KEEP. PLAYING. It’s genius. Pure, evil genius. And it must be stopped before it completely drains our bank accounts for the sake of a virtual cutout dress that does not exist in the real world.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has infiltrated the government and trickled down into hands of impressionable youth, who seem to have no concept of how money works. Kardashian has reportedly been on the receiving end of complaints and criticism from angry parents who say their kids are racking up massive charges due to these practically inevitable in-app purchases. Parents like Ayelet Waldman say that kids are unaware of how quickly they can spend their parents’ money on these in-app purchases, and have no idea how much they are spending on the game. An irate Waldman tweeted, “Evil, vile Kardashian Hollywood tricked my 11 yr old into spending $120 in 2 days. He’s crying hysterically. Pox on those f**kers.” “Abe, age 11: Sobbing. ‘I hate those G**damn Kardashians.’ Also? ‘I thought I was smarter than this.’”
Sweetie, of course you’re not smarter than this. You’re eleven. Also, I find an eleven-year-old who uses the phrase “god damn Kardashians” much more offensive than the actual Kardashians themselves. Also, also eleven-year olds have phones? Good god.
Whether or not the kid was, in fact, “tricked” into spending $120 on the app is debatable. Either way, “those f**kers” don’t care, and they don’t have to. The game was specifically engineered to reel us in and then, at our lowest point of sleep deprivation and twitching eyeballs, hit us with the option to make a virtual purchase for the low, low price of $4.99. That’s how it starts. You don’t even have to take your credit card out, so you never see the money you’re spending. Until you’ve spent $120 in two days. I have yet to make an in-app purchase, but I don’t know if I’ll make it much longer. I’m already in too deep to fight the inevitable.