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Socioeconomics and innovation in Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood

| Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I’m a recovering addict. My drug of choice: Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood. When the game came out over the summer, it garnered national attention as one of the most lucrative apps of all time. I downloaded it “to see what all the hype was about,” but as soon as Kim mentioned her Mom-ager while mentoring my character (named Emilia Forde, naturally), I was hooked.

Immediately, it becomes apparent that the programmers of Kim’s game (because attributing any substantial design decision to Kim herself proves misleading if not outright incorrect) are being very inclusive in regard to race and gender. There is a wide array of skin tones open to you as well as several fun ways to customize your look. I, obviously, customized my avatar to look like a younger, edgier Anna Wintour.

Later in the game, your character can choose whether or not to identify as gay or straight, and then they can date other characters of either gender. While progressive, same-sex relationships within “video game” universes are not at all uncommon and without precedent. In 1999, the Sims franchise introduced the possibility for same-sex relationships within its games, and a number of other games have adopted similar models over the years. In a lot of ways, the Kardashian game’s design is like a less-complicated version of the Sims with more of a storyline and, of course, Kim.

Though free to download, most of the app’s revenue occurs through in-app purchasing. The economy of the game is fairly straightforward. You expend energy to complete tasks that, in turn, allow you to earn money and K Stars that allow you to purchase items to further help your progress within the game. K stars, I discovered, were a precious and scarce commodity, though I resisted the siren call to buy some with my actual money. Your progress is measured by how “famous” you are, and that is measured based on the number of faux fans you have within the game and which list you are on (these range from the A List — the promised land of Kim’s Hollywood — to the E List).

The only way to gain wealth and, as a consequence, celebrity, are through dating, club appearances, modeling and endorsements. Kim Kardashian herself even appears as a fairy godmother of sorts, giving you advice on how to become famous like her and giving you new dresses to wear to events. She even references some very noticeable aspects of her show, from letting you adopt a Bengal cat like the one her sister Kourtney actually owns to using her common vernacular and saying things like “Bible!” to let you know she’s telling you the truth. It was unreal.

The game is actually a re-branding of a previously existing game called Stardom Hollywood with elements of Kim’s life and a Kim character added in. It was incredibly disappointing that none of the other family members made an appearance. Though Kim’s influence is, then, only surface deep, it’s very apparent that Kim (who signed off on the final product) and the programmers are conscious of the Kim Kardashian brand. The avenues open to you professionally are solely those that Kim used herself to rise from Paris Hilton’s stylist to a multi-millionaire and world-renowned celebrity, from the cover of K-9 Magazine (think Kim posing suggestively on the cover of Dog Fancy) to the cover of Vogue with then-fiance Kanye West. Socioeconomically, the structure of the game is specific. Your progress in the game parallels the actual business decisions that Kim made in her own life. Though hardly innovative, Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood offers you a fun escape into blatant narcissism and consumerism and provides a fun diversion for a time (a week for me). Bible.

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