Start Lindsay Lohan’s The Price of Fame and you see a randomly selected quote about the nature of fame– in the same way that Call of Duty used to show you a pithy (and often anti-war) quote about the nature of armed conflict after you died, before the game put you back into the action.
Lindsay Lohan’s The Price of Fame is available for iOS and Android and is what’s known as an “incrementing game,” or, an incrementer. If you’ve ever had games like Candy Box or Cookie Clicker hidden away in a browser tab while you pretended to do real work, you’ll understand how it operates immediately. You swipe up on the phone to gain one fan. Do this two hundred sixteen times, and you can spend those fans to buy your very first Coconut Water, which doubles the number of fans you earn per swipe. The next item up, Raw Food Diet, costs 3,680 fans, and gives you ten times the number of fans per swipe. And so on. You can also buy items that automatically give you fans over time, and then you can watch the number go up and buy more items that make the number go up even faster.
This continues forever, effectively, because everything’s been planned out ahead and designed with math to make your experience last a thousand days or, months, or years: your dozens of fans turn into hundreds, into tens and hundreds of thousands, into millions and hundreds of millions, into billions, and into hundreds of billions if you stick with it long enough– if you have the persistence, the drive.
As you are doing these swipes and upgrades, goofy cartoons of your fans rain down in the background, tracing zigzag patterns.
The fascinating thing about incrementing games is their addictiveness. Why do people get hooked on these? It must have something to do with how you feel like you’re always just far enough away from unlocking the next tier. You set your phone down and watch those numbers go up and you’re like, yes– I need fifty million fans for that next upgrade, and I think I’ll get them in about fifteen minutes, give or take.
Swiping as fast as you can is important too, because if you invest in abilities that keep swiping relevant, you can almost always double your rate of fan accumulation by swiping. Which you can get pretty good at as long as you don’t mind embarrassing yourself in public: the swiping is in a slightly different direction, but it kind of looks like you are trying to reject the entire population of Tinder at once. Or, as others have noted, the action of rubbing along the surface of your smartphone quickly can feel somewhat masturbatory. And imagine that, you know, in a game about Hollywood, and fame, and all.
I should note that the upgrades I mentioned are actually purchased with the fans you have accumulated. In other words, fans are both the object and the currency of the game. You must expend fans to gain more fans down the line. Here’s an example: the item Sleep with Poet Laureate costs 1.75 million fans– presumably the number of people disgusted with this craven action, who righteously leave your fandom– but it also nets you an additional 2,930 fans per second, so that your “cost” is recovered in about ten minutes. You can keep buying this item, too, and it’s not clear whether this means you are continuing to sleep with the Poet Laureate multiple times (surely less scandalous the second time around and thereafter) or if it means sleeping with different Poet Laureates, around the world, or throughout time.
All of the upgrades are supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek look at celebrity life, or maybe some kind of satire. In effect, however, it comes off as mean-spirited: Fake Illness, Create Fake Charity, Left Butt Implant, Fake Total Recovery, etc. Okay, yes, we get it, Lindsay: celebrities are f-, f-, capital F for Fake! And the faker they are the more fans they get! It’s so true!
The icons for the items are strange too; they might have been outsourced. The Elevator Fight icon– what a hilarious topical reference that is– has the dubiously spelled sound effect “Outch” superimposed on top of it. The Ghostwritten Rap Album– ha ha, those empty celebrities playing at rapping– is a picture of a compact disc with an actual rapping ghost depicted on the cover. Phony Rap Beef– Holden Caufield called, he wants you to know everything is phony– is a white man with a sideways baseball cap pointing accusingly at the viewer. Sure. Okay. Reality Show is a TV with the words THE REALITY SHOW written the screen.
By the way, even though Lindsay Lohan’s The Price of Fame takes care to let you be a celebrity of male or female gender, it’s soaked through with gendered norms. For example the developers went to the trouble of creating an icon of a man for the fan-boosting “Leak Nude Selfie” item, presumably for some sense of equitable treatment, but who in their right mind would think a leaked nude selfie has the same effects and repercussions when the star in question is a man or a woman?
Then again a lot of it is just completely silly and completely arbitrary: here’s an item entitled “Supermodel Girlfriend” which adds the capacity of retaining 21.6 billion fans in your entourage, which is around three times the population of the Earth. That’s fine. That’s from the math, you know; that’s game design.
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Anyway: what is the price of fame? That is of course what I was in search of as I played Lindsay Lohan’s The Price of Fame. You could interpret the title one of two ways. The first is “the price you pay to obtain fame”, and which the game answers by showing you that acquiring fame takes no special talent or ability, just lots of patience and a certain doggedness– a willingness to swipe your phone forever in search of that ever-bigger number.
The second way to interpret “the price of fame” is as the difficult toll on the psyche that fame extracts upon the famous. And one could argue that perhaps the game, completely unintentionally, recapitulates the utter pointlessness of chasing fame, in that it is really just a number that goes up. Because that’s the entirety of the game: a number gets bigger. Fame has no goal other than to inflate itself further. The most expensive item you’re offered is called Private Galaxy and it costs 2.16 thousand billion billion fans. This unfathomable cost– the sacrifice of those innumerable lives in order to create, and presumably exist within, one’s own private galaxy– inadvertently approaches the mythical, the metaphysical. In the endgame universe of Lindsay Lohan’s The Price of Fame there is you, and there are the fans, and there is nothing else.
Lindsay Lohan’s The Price of Fame is free to play, if you don’t mind being constantly interrupted by somewhat mistargeted ads, and if you really do wish to discover the price of fame without ever becoming famous yourself.