Ugly people have been making games for years and taking all the credit. Thankfully, that has come to an end with the arrival of Kim Kardashian (and her ample bum) on the gaming scene. This post comes by way of Maya, and reflects on the bizarre parallels between Kim Kardashian: Hollywood on iOS, and the Newgrounds’ flash game The Room: The Game.
Okay, firstly, I am very sorry for having to write this post. No, really. But you have to understand that I feel compelled to. The very fact Kim K’s new iOS game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, has been so successful (raking in a reported $700 000 a day, of which Kim receives half) was reason enough to explore this phenomenon, but the real reason is another kind of “bad” cultural icon altogether. For those of you who listen to the podcast, it should become amply clear that the most important lasting cultural project in the VeryVeryGaming household at the moment is not *shock horror* a videogame, but a film, specifically Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. Much to my delight, I discovered that it had been adapted into a flash game in 2010 (!) by the talented bunch at Newgrounds. It’s time to plumb the murky world of celebrity flash games. I’ll try to come out looking fabulous and flirty, with gaming cred still intact.
At first glance, Kim’s game and Newgrounds’ adaptation bear few similarities; play either for more than 5 seconds, and you will find they are essentially doing the same thing! Both of these games offer players the chance to play as, or engage in, the respective worlds of their “celebrity” owner. They’re videogame adaptations, in other words, of the heavily distorted reality within the TV show (in Kim’s case) or film (in Tommy’s). Of course the motives behind their creation are somewhat different, but both are in some sense love letters to their source of inspiration, and both suggest interesting things about the price of fame, our own (ironic?) obsession with celebrity culture and consumption of celebrity products. They are also both extended explorations of the banality of the everyday through the eyes of the overwhelmingly beautiful and glamorous actor/writer/producer Tommy Wiseau and those of a Z-lister hoping to enter the world of the hapless, fruity “business woman” Kim K.
Kim’s game is ridiculously addictive – it is the kind of game which rewards players indiscriminately, tapping into our twin desires to be wildly successful with minimum effort, and being best friends with the life mentor of so many young women with no self-esteem, Kim! The premise is that Kim coaches you from Z-list nobody, to an A-list celebrity. Presumably, the final step is marrying Kanye West. The banality of most of the actions (folding clothes is the first task) makes it very accessible, and oddly fascinating. Money literally falls out of everything, everywhere – you get cash for folding clothes, looking at grass, speaking to people, and on and on and on, although really it’s only your own hard-earned, real cash that will save you from the shame of obscurity. It’s a bit like Neopets but for grown ups. There’s the same addictive quality, the stickiness factor that makes you want to come back everyday, leveling and customizing your character, the die-hard competitiveness of even the most innocent-seeming acts, etc. You go from party to party (but only as a means of promoting a product), and intimacy with other human beings is generally discouraged, since you are hounded by the paparazzi. Better to be alone with your money and your clothes than to contaminate your life with EMOTIONS, ugh.
The fantasy of friendship is something I find particularly eerie in the game. The player’s passive acceptance of Kim as a modern day guardian angel for our consumer society is disturbing (she is famous for having an ass and a sex tape, after all). That feeling – of being exploited by dat ass – is difficult to shake off, no matter how much money falls from her butt-cleavage. Confession: I used to be a fan of Kim, when she was just a bum and it was actually fun to deconstruct whether the rise of the glorification of her ass was yet another racist move by society/the fashion industry. But a combination of her marrying a man who actually – in total seriousness – uses the history of slavery in America to justify why he deserves to have even more money (because FASHION), and her ruining videogames for me (a teeny bit for a little while), makes me feel things I usually reserve for real people. Like genuine annoyance.
Thankfully there was the adaptation of The Room to revive my love of humanity and games. The Room: The Game (play it here) is a unique experience – as long as you are a fan of the film! The Room: The Game faithfully recreates the quiet insanity of the film, as well as adding original humorous elements, particularly at the end of the game, which fill some of the more mysterious and bizarre plot holes of the film. I recognized immediately that this was made by fellow fans, and it warmed my heart. It evokes the intimacy and familiarity of the film, with its peculiar (and almost certainly unintentional) themes of self-absorption, narcissism and bitter jealousy.
The game explores the banal world of Tommy Wiseau in the film. In this bizarro everyday simulation, you collect spoons, attempt to keep your future wife happy with a dress and flowers, check up on your neighbours, Denny and Mark, sometimes see things you wish you hadn’t (an actual collectible in the game), and read Denny’s stalkerish diary. You can also record phone conversations using a simple tape recorder – another film trope – for added backstory. It’s just sad that we know how this will end: everyone will betray you, and you will be fed up with this world.
The off-key humour and ingenious world-building in this highly simple point-and-click “adventure” will keep you entertained for the 2 or 3 hours it lasts. The music – lovingly recreated 8-bit remixes of music from the film – is hilariously spot-on. It feels like the music was intended for a chiptune treatment all along. The amount of love and attention to detail that has gone into this game comes across at all times. It’s an enjoyable game, which actually engages meaningfully with a film totally devoid of depth.
Ultimately what binds these two games is that both are homages to banal and superficial characters who love to flaunt the junk in their trunk. The Room is very explicit about this, with San Francisco re-imagined in the game through a Wiseau lens: there’s “Lisa Park, formerly The Golden Gate Park”, and, the only named road, “Wiseau Street”. Johnny is a favourite customer in all the shops, and even the police dub him their favourite citizen – who knew that such a title existed? It is apparent from the film – and the game heavily underlines this – that for Tommy Wiseau The Room was a self-indulgent, narcissistic project. Indeed, both the film and the game contain extended shots of Tommy Wiseau’s ass; clearly an asset both Kim and Tommy greatly value in themselves. To quote the imminently readable The Disaster Artist (the hilarious account of the making of The Room currently being adapted into a film):
In the love scene’s final shot, Johnny gets out of bed and walks bare-assed to the bathroom. Tommy thought long and hard about his decision to show his ass. “I need to do it,” he told me. “I have to show my ass or this movie won’t sell.” Yes, Tommy dedicated an entire scene to his ass.
Does Kim ever think the same? And is Kim Hollywood’s favourite citizen? While The Room: The Game feels sincere and genuine(ly unhinged), Kim K’s game is exploitative, despite its self-awareness. The game does a good job of making the player feel like the “favourite customer”; but at the same time, it’s not difficult to recognise that the release of her game is another important step in Kim’s celebrity empire, and by playing, you (yes, you) have become a cog in her achieving new levels of status and money through self-absorption. In fact, it is made a moral imperative in the game to improve your celebrity status and recognition at all costs, and thus virtual reality and reality sit uncomfortably side-by-side. We win in the game, Kim wins at life. Yay.
My advice to you all is to watch The Room – and then play the game to relive the experience. As for Kim’s game? It is addictive, but ultimately boring. Rather like Keeping up with the Kardashians. It’s weirdly compulsive, but it makes me hate myself at the same time.
In a weird kind of way, Kim’s game was made for Tommy or his co-star, Greg Sestero, while The Room: The Game is perfect for Kim. If you read The Disaster Artist it becomes patently obvious that Kim and Tommy share the same dream: of making it big and earning lots and lots of money. They are just different variations of the same story. Kim’s family were already very rich but the American Dream is much the same: fame, intrigue, mystique…branding…toned behinds…
Anyway, enough pontificating, let’s get serious here. Would Tommy beat Kim at Mortal Kombat? Judge for yourself.
Final thing: a few screenshots of The Room: The Game. Minor spoilers!