Kim Kardashian, posing on a red carpet in Hollywood, is revealing the secrets behind her rise from sex tape ingénue to media titan. “Dating famous people will get you more fans,” says the recently minted Mrs. West, flashing her grape-sized diamond engagement ring. Her delivery—airy and a little tepid—is familiar from her long-running reality series. “Who knows, maybe some day you’ll have your own show, too,” she tells me.
Or more accurately, her animated alter ego tells my on-screen avatar.
Kardashian’s new app, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, invites iOS and Android users to “create your own aspiring celebrity and rise to fame and fortune!” After tricking out a character with a hairstyle, outfit and accessories—“kustomizing” their look, in the game’s jargon—players set off through Hollywood, Miami, Las Vegas and New York in pursuit of A-list status.
This mostly involves completing promotional gigs that at first sound glamorous but turn out to be dull. (In this respect, actually, the game offers an authentic depiction of what it’s like to shill product for a living.) During a magazine shoot for the fictional Pop Glam magazine, you earn points for prosaic activities like checking your makeup, holding poses and “smiling with your eyes.” An appearance for Immaculat vodka at a hot Miami club involves mingling, ordering shots and trying to tune out the unrelenting EDM soundtrack.
The unremitting stream of appearances, outfit changes, photo shoots and flights soon becomes wearisome.
After each gig, you check a Twitter-like feed to see whether the media and fans like your work. “To remain famous, you must keep doing projects,” warns the app. “If you don’t do a good job on a project, people will lose interest in you, and you’ll lose fans!”
Players can also increase their celebrity clout by interacting with other characters in the game: dating a notable musician or starting a feud with an established starlet. This is a lot more fun than the promo projects, if only because the other citizens of Kardashian’s Hollywood often have ludicrous get-ups (shutter shades, leopard-print bustiers) and inexplicably odd careers (hearing aid practitioner, agrologist).
The game is aesthetically slick and surprisingly addictive. It also may be the most vain thing Kardashian has ever done (and that's including last week's wedding Instagram ridiculosity). Virtual Kim swans in every so often to dish out advice like a buxom fairy godmother. Her larger-than-life curves, along with her impossibly thick hair and lash-fringed eyes, lend themselves perfectly to the video-game medium and her avatar is—of course—just a little bit prettier than any other character in the game.
Virtual Kim is generous, too, helping to plan photo shoots and birthday parties, and welcoming characters to her Beverly Hills mansion, which has a classic Kardashian décor scheme: white marble, grand foyer, glittering chandeliers. Her appearances are infrequent enough so that they soon become the most exciting part of the game. When she finally warms up enough to start calling me “doll,” I can’t help but feel a thrill, which instantly turns into embarrassed self-reproach.
More wisdom courtesy of virtual Kim: “Changing your look and buying nice clothes can get you attention from media.” In fact, this is harder than it sounds: In the game’s idiosyncratic economy, a flight from Miami to L.A. costs $15, while a sleeveless vintage tee goes for $1,250. Players can always purchase credits in the form of virtual dollars (or these strange star things) through iTunes to bling out their lifestyle more quickly—a reminder that the app is, above all, another revenue source for Kardashian. So, for $4.99 IRL, you can acquire 5,000 Kardashian dollars—enough to purchase four of the aforementioned sleeveless tees. For $19.99 of your hard-earned money, you can score 25,000 K dollars, which you can then use toward a shiny new Range Rover-type vehicle (20,000K). Or perhaps you’d like a pair of strappy sandals for 100 stars (105 stars will cost you $9.99). Undoubtedly, the merchandising mogul has legions of fans who will gladly pay $19.99 to buy enough credits for a kitten in a tote bag.
For everyone else, the unremitting stream of appearances, outfit changes, photo shoots and flights soon becomes wearisome. The game’s concept suggests that being just like Kim Kardashian is the pinnacle of self-fulfillment. But it ends up making that life seem completely unpalatable.