The year is 2016. I am 27 years old. Just a few years ago, I had a comfortable life and a promising future. But then I threw it all away for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood .
The last time I was truly addicted to a video game, it was the early 2000s and I was holing myself up in my room for hours on end, hunching over a Dell desktop to play God with my Sims. My parents had purchased the computer for me in an attempt to free up their office on nights and weekends, when I would use the pretense of homework to chat with friends on AIM. I turned into a recluse for an entire summer, shutting myself up all free hours and staying up nights making sure my Sims (but not myself) got enough to sleep and were adequately showered.
I downloaded the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood mobile game immediately following its release in June 2014. I was greatly anticipating Hollywood for months before its arrival to the App Store, and I have been struggling to tamp down the overwhelming impulse to spend money on in-app purchases ever since. I've deleted and re-downloaded the game countless times in vain attempts to break my addiction. I even set boundaries: "If I cave and buy energy points, I will delete the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood for one week." I never last a week.
In the world of the game, everything you do costs energy points. Tasks include: going on dates, throwing parties, completing photo shoots, modeling jobs, and TV commercials, training for movie roles, doing favors for the Kardashian sisters, and occasionally fighting on fake Twitter with your very real nemesis. And like life, without injecting real money, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood moves painstakingly slow.
The tasks in the game require one covetable skill—patience. There is a lot of waiting for energy to re-load in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Depending on your "level," which charts a player's slow advancement rather than denoting any change in the game, energy will max out at a certain ceiling. Therefore, the most effective strategy for playing Hollywood is to log into the game every hour or so for about five minutes for the rest of your life. But that isn't how people play video games.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is what's called a "freemium" game, meaning that although the game is free to download (and re-download, ad infinitum), it is engineered to encourage players to make small purchases—with real money—extremely frequently. And it works: Kim Kardashian: Hollywood made over €57 million in revenue in its first year on the market. (That's almost as much as some of the top console video games. For comparison, EA Sports' NFL Madden 2016 made $76 million [€70 million] in 2015.)
The Sims, which in 2002 became the best-selling PC game in history, spawned several expansion packs, sequels, and spinoffs. Sold on CD-ROM at retailers like Target and GameStop for about $50 [€46] (right now in the UK, The Sims 4 is about the £25 mark [€23], new), it could provide endless entertainment. Expansion packs were less expensive, and allowed your Sims to date, adopt pets, go on vacation, even become famous (to name only the expansion packs that I personally owned).
Though an addiction to The Sims could run you hundred of dollars in expansion packs, there was a limit to how much you could conceivably spend. On top of that, the money you invested made the game more dynamic, interesting, and challenging. Buying an expansion pack was an exciting and didn't make me question my sanity, will-power, and basic survival skills.
There are a lot of items that cost real money in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Houses. Pets. Outfits. Children. On my (currently suspended) account, I own homes in Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, Calabasas, Malibu, Miami, New York City, Florence, Tokyo, Paris, London, Milan, Dubai, Sydney, Punta Mita, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Montana (city not specified). I have nine dogs, a cat, a pig, a parrot, a private plane and an adopted child. I also own a lot of fur coats, hairstyles, necklaces and Balmain outfits.
These purely aesthetic upgrades to my Kim Kardashian: Hollywood life have resulted in a fair amount of real accrued debt, sure. But the real problem comes from the never-ending need to purchase energy points. And purchase them I have: I've spent at least $25 [€23] per month on energy points for Hollywood since I downloaded it a year and a half ago. I give such a high percent of my overall income to Kris Jenner, the Kardashian clan's matriarch and manager, that sometimes it feels like I'm one of her kids.
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On level 28, my accrued energy ceiling is 34 points. Each energy point takes about five minutes to refresh. The average task takes over 100 energy points (and therefore eight hours) to complete. For the amount of money it takes to play the game continuously and make a minuscule and perpetually unsatisfying amount of progress toward finishing your never-ending to-do list, you could buy yourself an overpriced meal in Los Angeles. Or several.
Pretty soon, Wells Fargo was sending me mailers advertising low(-ish) interest loans to pay off my credit card debt.
This problem isn't confined to Kim Kardashian fans. League of Legends, the most popular freemium game of them all, made well over €1 billion last year. Much of this revenue comes directly from micro-transactions within the game. As one LoL player joked on Reddit, "I just have my paycheck set up to go directly to Riot."
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Frustration with constant encouragement to spend money in "freemium" games led Kim Kardashian's own husband and co-parent Kanye West to lament in a tweet last autumn, "Fuck any game company that puts in-app purchases on kids games!!!"
I know it's time for me to delete Kim Kardashian: Hollywood for good. In a way, it feels like I'm letting Kim Kardashian, that infallible mogul life-force, down. And while there is no question that the hardest thing about trying not to play Hollywood is seeing Kim Kardashian promote it on her Instagram, Twitter, lifestyle app, website, and live stream, it is not a possibility to unfollow Kim Kardashian. There is no way to disengage from Kim Kardashian without completely disengaging from the world of media and entertainment itself.
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