Kimberly Noel Kardashian West is 33—nine years older than me. She is the child of Robert Kardashian, who was famously a defense attorney in O. J. Simpson’s trial. He died of esophageal cancer in 2003. In 2007, when Mrs. Kardashian West was 27, after beginning a relationship with a new man on the end of an old marriage, a sex tape of her and her new boyfriend was leaked. It was released without her consent and distributed by Vivid Entertainment, entitled “Kim K Superstar.” She dropped her suit with Vivid Entertainment, after spinning this betrayal into a multi-million dollar career.
She’s now about to make $85 million from her iOS game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. I can’t stop playing it. It’s not exactly a complicated game, the mechanics basically consisting of “click this thing to perform an action that is not animated,” but by playing it, I feel as if I am being given a perverse window into how Mrs. Kardashian West experiences the world.
My life as Gossip Gita, LA Nobody turned ingénue, starts as it does for all players in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood—I work in a boutique, and have a chance encounter with Mrs. Kardashian West who takes a liking to me. I become a protégé. I am welcomed into a world where people are explicitly ranked in terms of popularity, a thought that sends middle school aged me into a panic. I started off on the E-List, and am now on the B-List. The goal is to become an A-Lister.
My avatar is whisked from engagement to engagement to engagement. Literally—as soon as I leave a cover shoot, I get a “call” from my “agent” with another offer with the implication that I should run over now. At these engagements, each action takes a bit of energy. When you run out, but try to continue, the game tells you that you are tired.
It does seem tiring. Right now in real life, I work three jobs, but those jobs have defined beginning and ending points, and when I clock out, I don’t have to care about it until my shift begins the next morning. In Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, everything matters. There is no “off the clock.” By accident, I flubbed an interview where I was asked a leading question about my rival, Willow Pape. I almost got knocked down to the C-List for speaking negatively about her. Somehow, I even regret not being more discriminating my answers. Wilow Pape as a character is over the top rude, and extremely easy to hate (one of my favorite gags from the game is the second time she runs into you, she tweets about how you’re stalking her, adding ”#illuminati #obamacare”). But it took a lot of time to get up to the B-List, and I wasn’t about to be demoted for speaking my virtual mind about this fake person.
Clearly, I do not want to live in this world, although it’s a nice diversion from the world in which I am not famous. For Mrs. Kardashian West, however, this isn’t a diversion. This is her reality. She doesn’t have a choice on whether or not she is scrutinized. She had a choice when her sex tape was released—be forever known as a woman who had a sex tape, or try and take control of that situation. She no longer gets to have “off the clock.” When Mrs. Kardashian West wakes up, she is working. When she goes grocery shopping, she is working. When she is with her family, she is working. Every word she speaks and outfit she puts on and decision she makes must be made in respect to the fact that it will be recorded and analyzed. This is reflected in the game, as well. I managed to escape the E-List by buying a nice outfit and thereby gaining more in-game fans. There is no visible metric for when or how this happens, and when I saw the notification, I was a little startled. Although the game makes sure you never forget that you’re always being watched, it doesn’t exactly spell out how closely.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood serves as a reminder that Mrs. Kardashian West’s Kim Kardashian-ness is not an accident, nor is it easy. After the release of her sex tape, E! enlisted Mrs. Kardashian West and her siblings for a reality TV show. After having her public persona determined for her, she would be able to take the reins. This show has run for nine seasons. Since then, she and her sisters have designed numerous clothing lines, and she has created 4 perfumes. She has had minor roles in two movies, and recorded a charity single produced by The-Dream, to which she donated half of the profit to cancer, saying to MTV, “The-Dream’s and one of my parents passed away from cancer. It’s just all having fun—with a good cause.” She has appeared on numerous television shows. As an Armenian American, she has campaigned for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, writing in a blog post, ”...What I’m trying to show [is]…it’s not history. Until this crime is resolved truthfully and fairly, the Armenian people will live with the pain of what happened to their families and the fear of what might happen again to their homeland.” Mrs. Kardashian West is now worth an estimated $45 million, has recently married and given birth to a daughter. And she is still working.
As of writing this, my Kim Kardashian: Hollywood avatar is still on the B-list. But she’s still working, too. She has a national ad campaign lined up, and she just finished a cover feature for a national magazine. She makes celebrity appearances in clubs on each coast. She owns a small boutique. She’s saving up for a vacation home in Miami. She’s been on a few dates, but she hasn’t met anyone she really likes yet. Plus, dating takes time and money, and Gossip Gita honestly doesn’t have the energy for that.
The greatest asset for videogames as fiction, one that it holds over other forms of media, is the immediacy with which you can identify with people and experiences that are not your own. While books and movies allow you to observe, videogames really allow you to be someone else. With each little tap on my tablet’s screen, I feel like I am closer to experiencing Mrs. Kardashian West’s world, though with less pressure, and the ability to turn it off. If there’s any reason or purpose for this game other than to put more money in Kimberly Noel Kardashian West’s pocket, it’s this: You want to know why Kim Kardashian is famous? It’s because she works.
Gita Jackson writes at xoxogossipgita.tumblr.com and her Twitter is @xoxogossipgita.