WARNING: The following contains graphic content not suitable or wanted to be seen by some viewers. Viewer Discretion is Advised.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, produced by Glu (who is known for publishing both a Nicki Minaj based tablet game and a Gordon Ramsey based tablet game), is, like other Glu games, an (insert celebrity name here) based tablet game. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood (KKH), takes place mainly in beautiful Los Angeles to which the player “role-plays” an up and coming celebrity who is, luckily, Kim Kardashian’s new found friend. While the game offers many features of supposed “depth,” most, if not all, aspects of gameplay involve simply tapping on the screen, or in my case clicking with the mouse, and choosing specific “actions” to gain money, experience, and ratings for level completion. While the game is extremely simple, and sadly not quite “free,” Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is indeed still a game according to Juul.
In attempting to rigorously define what a “game” is, Juul states,
“A game is a rule-based system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels emotionally attached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are negotiable” (36).
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood satisfies Juul’s criteria for a game very easily. KKH is rule based, has variable quantifiable outcomes (failing certain missions, not becoming the most famous, not choosing a husband/ wife, choosing or not choosing a pet, etc. . . .), different outcomes being assigned different values (choosing one action may not be quite as profitable in game to other actions), the player exerting effort to influence the outcome (tapping and sliding the game screen in order to complete levels and navigate the game world), the player feeling emotionally attached to the outcome (either in glorious rage like me or in joy of newfound fame), and finally whose consequences of the activity are negotiable (there are various degrees of existing within the game world to which the player is either maximizing resource placement and achieving fame as quickly as possible or taking a more complicated, casual route throughout the games levels).
While this is extremely apparent, the type of game KKH is marketed as seems to be far more deceitful than its mere existence as a game. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is marketed as a role-playing game. This being the case, although Juul would claim KKH is a game, I claim KKH is hardly a pass as existing as a role-playing game. In order to save time I will focus on the major aspects of KKH to which its supposed title as an RPG falls apart.
It becomes abundantly clear that throughout playing KKH, the player will speak to numerous amounts of people. During my play through I went on dates, networked, talked to Kim, spoke with my managers, my old retail boss, my manager at Kim’s clothing company, my “arch” rival, photographers, and other celebrities. Having so many potentials for real engaging character and world building it seems shocking how dismal the dialogue options are. For most of the game, it feels as if my dialogue choices are not only utterly meaningless, since most of the time I am only given literally a single dialogue choice (I thought this was MY character), but even my character design choices are utterly meaningless as well. I wanted my character to be a butch lesbian who has a more “masculine” build and yet the only character design options I am given is skinny feminine cis-gendered stereo-typically pretty person. I am always baffled when these “role-playing games” do not even allow the player to actually become the character they want to be. Since the game itself will not allow to me play the character I want to play, how could one possibly call this game a definitive role-playing game? How can KKH possibly be a role-playing game if I am given no option to even engage in role play with such limited dialogue options and character choices? While this game certainly is not an RPG, it would be important to note its radically feminized design is mildly refreshing in such a gaming industry to which the male gaze dominates, although falling into the same binarical trap most video games fall into.
According to Fran, Fullerton, Morie, and Pearce, a study in 2005 conducted by the International Game Developers Association showed that “88.5% of all game development workers are male; 83.3% are white; 92% are heterosexual.” (310). Games, commonly are created primarily for straight white males, by straight white males. This being the case, KKH seems to be a shining light within the game industry given its stereo-typically feminine nature. This game seems to be targeted not at men and instead towards women given its feminine nature. This being the case, I do not believe it would ever be a bad thing given current industry practices to create a game for women. Games for women should exist within such a male gaming climate. However, while KKH does stick out among most games as a non-violent and “girly” game about fame and luxury, things the average Call of Duty player strives to achieve but does so by fragging noobs and shooting heads, it becomes abundantly clear that this game still functions within similar cis-normative standards as even Call of Duty. When it comes down to it, this game, while allowing the player to choose certain things, does not allow the player to fully immerse themselves within the game. The game limits options in binaries. The player can either be a feminine cis-woman, or a slightly, and I use this word carefully, effeminate cis-man. The play can either be straight or gay. The only existence of a spectrum here is the color pallet used in choosing your characters hairstyle. KKH is not an RPG, it is merely a cis-gender normation simulator.
As far as fun is involved, this game does not necessarily have to be fun. Since becoming a celebrity is not necessarily easy or fun, I think the game would do well with some more droning tasks to drive home the idea that becoming famous is hard work and not always a fun glamorous party, although it may end in such fiesta.
Concluding, while Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is indeed a game, it falls flat on its face marketing itself as a role-playing game when it clearly is not. To call KKH a role-playing game because you are a character and choose what to do would be like calling Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 a role-playing game. Instead, KKH is a cis-gender normation simulator to which the player is forced to create a stereo-typically beautiful man or women and try to become famous. So while seeing a game marketed and designed for women is positive, it appears to be marketed to a specific kind of women (a cis-gendered women). This exclusionary tactic is not only not positive, but demeans player choice to the fullest extent. I am not sure if this game was made after Caitlin Jenner completed her transition but since this is an APP to be found online, the developers could clearly add new features to those who are transgender, gender-queer, or gender non-conforming. So while this game is a step in the right direction to remove the male gaze from the gaming industry, it barely does so by utilizing similar industry standards of cis-normativity, conventional beauty standards, and transgender exclusion.
Janine Fron, Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Ford Morie, and Celia Pearce. (2007). “The Hegemonyof Play.” In Digital Gaming Research Association: Situated Play. Tokyo.
Jesper Juul. (2005). “Video Games and the Classic Game Model” in Half-Real: Video Gamesbetween Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press: pp. 23-54.