Ambient Kommercialism & Kardashian Kontext in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was released in 2014 to much fanfare, where it shot to #1 on the Apple App Store chart and grabbed #4 for top-grossing apps. The game developer, Glu Mobile, reported that it raked in $1.6 million in its first five days on the market. The Kardashians are a brand and a lifestyle that is largely consumed in a passive way — we watch Kim on TV and in photoshoots and on red carpets. Our pursuit of her content…

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Kim Kardashian: Hollywood was released in 2014 to much fanfare, where it shot to #1 on the Apple App Store chart and grabbed #4 for top-grossing apps. The game developer, Glu Mobile, reported that it raked in $1.6 million in its first five days on the market.

The Kardashians are a brand and a lifestyle that is largely consumed in a passive way — we watch Kim on TV and in photoshoots and on red carpets. Our pursuit of her content across Instagram and Snapchat could be construed as slightly more active consumption. But the basis of Kim’s fame is visual: we want to see what her life is like. This is likely why on Twitter she has 48 million followers but on Instagram 85 million.

So how does the Kardashian experience translate into a game? In Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, players customize their avatars in either gender. The avatar works at a clothing boutique and immediately has a chance-encounter with Kim herself! You are destined for fame. Kim invites you to a party, gets you a modeling gig, and is a guiding hand through your ascent from the D-list to the A-list celebrity totem pole. This is the core goal of the game: attain fame, as much as you possibly can.

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Megan Garber at the Atlantic described the landscape of KK: Hollywood as “ambient commercialism“: the more modeling jobs and event appearances you do, the more money, energy, and K-stars you get. Money can be used to buy new clothing, hair, accessories, make-up, pets, mansions, Range Rovers and more that get unlocked with each level up. Energy allows you do to more jobs but also extract more money out of each job (and better impress your fans). K-stars are the rarest and most valuable currency within the game — they translate to charmas in, if you have enough K-stars you can literally charm your way through doors and climb that social ladder double time. Every action and reaction within the game is geared toward selling yourself so you can buy more things for yourself so that you can then better sell yourself, ad infinitum. (actually only until level 45).

The story-line of the game mimics Kim’s own early rise to fame; in-game, So Chic clothing boutique is a dupe for DASH, the clothing boutique operated by Kim and her sisters. In-game, you start with small modeling gigs, reminiscent of some of the shockingly small (and bad) modeling gigs Kris Jenner was booking Kim for on the first season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Miami becomes an unlocked destination where you can make club appearances to earn more K-stars, which is exactly what Kim did in her spin-off reality show set in Miami.

In “How to do Things With Video Games,” Ian Bogot dedicates a chapter to branding. Modern iconography in games adds a layer of “contemporary social values” in games. He gives the example of a re-skinned Monopoly game where the player tokens are updated to represent 21st century brands: a Toyota Prius, Mcdonald’s french fries, New Balance sneakers, and Starbucks coffee. (53).  In Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, players experience a re-skinning of Kim’s own ascent to fame, layered with the “contemporary social values” the game points to: fame, materialism, social climbing, looks, travel…If the game lacked the contemporary context the Kardashian presence affords it, I don’t think it would have been nearly as popular.

I’m only on level 10 so it remains to be seen whether I’ll make it to that mythical A-list or not.