I am not proud of what I am about to share, but in a world where people (cough, my colleague Elena Nicolaou) pay real money to buy seeds for a virtual succulent, I refuse to be judged. In 2015 and some of 2016, I had a secret identity that only a few other people knew about. When I wasn’t working on my Master’s thesis, grading papers for the undergraduate class I taught, or partying all over Atlanta, I was an international celebrity named Punany. I had two children and was married no fewer than three times. As an actress, model, and fashion icon, I had my own reality series, walked in fashion shows for popular designers, and owned expensive homes in about a dozen different countries. This was my alternate reality as player of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the mobile game that has grossed over $200 million since 2014, according to Forbes.
The source of my personal shame stems from the fact that I accounted for .0001% of that number when, over the course of a few months, I spent $200 playing the game. Needless to say, it was interesting time in my life. But it wasn’t totally pointless. As someone who now gets paid to keep up with the Kardashians — and celebrities like them — in order to produce content, I can also recognize that I was immersed in an interactive crash course on the workings of fame.
The goal of K.K.: Hollywood is pretty simple: to go from a regular degular assistant at a clothing store to a pop culture enigma. You gather millions of fans by collecting the maximum number of stars, within a set amount of time, on gigs like photoshoots, fashion shows, auditions, and business meetings with industry executives, who keep the endorsements coming in. Other incentives to increase your fan base — which is modeled after Twitter in that you gain followers and can keep track of headlines about you and your competition in the sidebar — include frequent wardrobe changes, big purchases like cars and homes, and of course, relationship drama. All of this requires some combination of virtual money, K-stars, and energy — all of which you either earn at a snail’s pace, or purchase to prolong and expedite your playtime. In my case, $5 here and $20 there when I had extra cash quickly added up to $200. Do. Not. Judge. Me.
K.K.: Hollywood is basically an animated, interactive replica of Kim Kardashian's long-standing reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Whatever happened to Kim in the real world became a possibility on the game. For example, you can purchase the full collection of Balmain apparel customized for her by the brand’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing (who also appears in the game). When you marry your partner, the ceremony happens in Florence, Italy, and you can choose to have a wall of flowers of as the backdrop, just like Kim and Kanye West did when they wed. When Saint West was born at the end of 2015, you had the option of adopting a second child into your family. The game is also programmed with an arch nemesis named Willow Pape, who is white and blonde à la Paris Hilton or Taylor Swift. And you thought Kim’s book of selfies was indulgent...
Thankfully, my friend introduced me to a hack (I regret nothing. It’s not like Kim needs the money.) that came with an unlimited amount of money and K-stars, allowing me to fully blossom into my alter ego. I was off to the races without the boundaries that had previously held me back on the addictive app. In a matter of weeks, on the 4.7-inch space that was my iPhone, I was living like a Kardashian, literally.
Now that I'm on the other side of my year-long obsession with this game, I am actually more in awe of the force that is Kim Kardashian. Because the mechanisms of “making it” in the game are so specific to her life, I know for a fact that being a celebrity is hard work. To demonstrate what I mean, this is what landing a part in a movie on K.K.: Hollywood looks like: First you meet with the director at a restaurant in Hollywood to discuss the details. He sends you to an acting coach near LAX to work on your thespian skills, which is an 8 hour gig. You land the part, but first you have to promote it at a club in Miami. Another 8-hour gig. You have to take promotional photos. Another 8 hours. You film the movie in Dubai, which is a 12-hour gig. Then you have to convince a businessman in France not to sue you for copyright infringement. You take the meeting in London. Then you have to attend the premiere in New York. Eight more hours. You need a new look for each event, and your manager is setting up the next thing before you even arrive to the first one.
This is exactly what the Kardashians are doing in real life. Except a flight around the world takes way longer than a few taps on a phone screen. Being on set is monotonous and taxing on the body. Maintaining relationships with other people in the industry is a near constant part of the job, which can be exhausting for even the most extra extroverts. And sitting in hair and makeup for hours everyday is only fun for so long. The paparazzi are a constant presence, and sometimes you have haters like Taylor Sw— I mean, Willow Pape. You may not agree with Kim’s chosen path but you can’t call her lazy.
And this is ultimately why I stopped playing. After my rate of play surpassed the speed with which developers were able to update the app with fresh storylines and opportunities, I got bored. I owned all the houses, I’d worn every possible hairstyle and color combination, I had married and divorced a bunch of times, and I made it to the top of the popularity charts about a hundred times over. But most importantly, I still had an actual life to live. In the real world I was about to graduate and was looking for jobs. And unlike Kim, I didn’t have seven figure checks as an incentive to keep up with the constant demands of my life in the spotlight.