In which I do some dirty work so you don’t have to
I’ve always liked how Nick Gillet gets so much into his tiny space for game reviews in The Guardian’s small-format Guide. His review of some new Kardashian thing is irresistible. How appropriate that her name should be attached to what sounds like the ultimate vacuous cash-grab — a congealment of freemium gamification so perfect that it stands up without a shred of actual game to support it.
“Your task is to nurture your character from nobody to global superstar via modelling, acting, social appearances and networking. In reality this involves tapping on-screen lozenges to make them vomit out dollars and stars until your energy runs out, at which point you either pay to renew it or wait an hour or two. This process is soul-crushingly meaningless, and yet the gradual granting of rewards, even in this squalid midden heap of postmodernist horror, still manages to exert a subtle but inexorable pull that might find the unwary spending actual money to advance the career of their cretinous, bottom-feeding D-lister. Bewildering.”
It’s almost tempting to play it, right? But you wouldn’t actually download it, would you? Neither would I normally, but then I did need a screenshot for this post, so I had to download it for research. I didn’t actually play it though, except for a little bit, to find a good image, and then I only played it in an ironic way, anyway. The 15 minutes I spent on the character creation screen were especially ironic. I wavered between pink and green nail varnish with lacerating sarcasm. I didn’t enjoy it, and I’m not going to play it any more now that I’ve finished my research. There weren’t any better screenshots after the second playthrough anyway.
A tour of a game you might not otherwise see
Something about the pastels and chandeliers of the So Chic Boutique, the characters’ forced dialogue, and their awkward body-language seemed like the set-up for a porn film. Your boss Luther is a pathetic E-list celebrity, but such is your lowly station that you must do everything he asks of you. Once you’ve “straightened his mannequin” for him, he leaves you some cash and sets off to Beverly Hills, giving instructions to close the register and lock up.
The next scene is pure class. Having finished at the boutique — not easy: to close the register you needed to tap the button twice — you step out into the street. And who’s this you’ve bumped into? Well I never! Naturally, I chose the “Kim Kardashian!!” dialogue option — a choice missing in so many games, I feel. When I screeched her name, Kim graciously threw some loose change onto the ground, and I was permitted to scrub around at her feet to collect it. That’s stardom.
I’ve misplaced the next screenshot, but at the end of the game, when you’re rich and famous and have your own freemium mobile game, you have the option to tell the designers to make your twelve-year-old fans fantasise in their measly bedrooms about scrounging beneath you for your discarded scraps. Choosing to break the sick cycle of depression for the 99.9999-percenters and spread a new message of happiness and self-worth for all, free from the trauma of permanent competition, rewards the player with a fantastic go-to-heaven ending. Choosing instead to perpetuate the torment of unresolvable self-hatred and ego-debasement for A-list wannabes will only get you the standard go-to-hell ending: a well-drawn cinematic of your customised bimbo (male or female) scorching in red-hot shackles while Kardashian is branded with images of her own face embossed on the glowing coins tumbling onto her from your flaming handbag.
Which was a surprisingly respectable message to find in the game, I must confess.
[Edit: If you read this, I recommend my follow-up, in which I realise I was being a dick here.]