Shoot first, ask questions later
Steven Poole chases fame in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood
Asked to draw something under the rubric “FEAR”, I sketch a fanged dragon’s head. For “WEALTH”, I draw a sack with a dollar sign on the side. When it comes to “AFTERLIFE”, for some reason, I pen a smiley face with a neurotically toothy grin. This process is the opening of David OReilly’s arthouse provocation Mountain rather than that of the remarkable mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, but it suits the latter just as well. After all, that game is predicated on fear (of not being noticed) and the pursuit of wealth at all costs, and its attitude to cosmic existential questions such as the existence of an afterlife is, one may surmise, that of a rabbit-frozen-inheadlights, porcelain-veneers-flashing rictus of nervous incomprehension.
Was any videogame ever so thoroughly both a semi-satirical symptom of and a willing collaborator in cultural decline as Kim
Kardashian: Hollywood? Right from the initial loading-screen tips, the game recommends to its users a psychopathically instrumental approach to social interaction. The only reason to date people is to “level up”. The only reason to be charming is to get “the best opportunities and rewards”. The only reason to talk to people – at least to people you don’t want to have sex with – is for “networking”. Forget being nice, the game whispers evilly in the player’s ear, this is how you really get ahead.
The truth of these rules is then demonstrated in a world of peculiarly Botoxed ultramodern design, in which everything is shiny and clean, and green bricks of dollars literally spurt out of the body of Kim Kardashian when you talk to her. (It is as though she is actually able to defecate cash, as well as metallic silver stars, from every pore, let alone every orifice.)
The scenario is hilariously illogical, mainly in the way that the life of reality TV stars is itself hilariously illogical. At the beginning of the game, I have a job folding clothes in a boutique and I travel around the
Forget being nice, the game whispers evilly in the player’s ear, this is how you really get ahead
city by bus, but I somehow manage to live in a building that’s called “deLUXE lifestyle Apartments”. (My pad is the sort of apartment where you would leave Mountain running on a spare iPad as a kind of dynamic installation piece.)
Luckily, Kim Kardashian happens by, and invites me to a party to save me from this lifestyle. It is a terrible party, because the only people there are Kim Kardashian, the barman, and a woman with whom I can choose to flirt or network. (Reader, I did the obvious.) Even so, it is not long before I have acquired a manager and publicist. Why? What is it exactly that I do? Don’t be silly. What I do is try to be famous.
This game is, of course, too clever to be totally straight-faced, and many characters are given snarky lines that appear to be undermining the celebrity ethos of the whole. (My publicist makes a surprisingly dark implicit admission: “Who needs therapy when blasting someone online makes me feel better than all the CBT and SSRIs in the world could?”) The game, then, may be trying to work for two audiences at once. Just as great children’s movies always contain jokes that pass over the kids’ heads but amuse the adults, perhaps Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is making a pitch to appeal to hipster sceptics as well as true, adoring Kardashian fans.
If so, it’s an audacious gambit. And it’s true that Kim Kardashian: Hollywood may be seen charitably, in one light, as a Machiavellian/Darwinian self-help survival guide for navigating a decadent society in which all other actors are competing ruthlessly for cash and attention. Yet it also cannot help but endorse the values it is portraying, despite allowing some characters to verbally undercut them – never more so than on the excessively frequent occasions when it attempts to trick you into advertising the game for it on Twitter or Facebook, or begs you to spend your own real money on in-app currency so that you can buy a new hairstyle or shirt. It works, of course – at the time of writing, Kim
Kardashian: Hollywood is forecast to gross $200 million by the end of the year – but it also shows you where the game’s fundamental sympathies really lie. In the end, then, Kim Kardashian:
Hollywood is a powerful demonstration that, sometimes, you can’t have it both ways. But what if there were a version scripted by the author of American Psycho and Glamorama?
Bret Easton Ellis: Hollywood – now that really
would be something.