We become odd, cynical people when we are lonely. When we want company, we’ll do nearly anything to get it. There was a time shortly after my divorce when I would go to the mall, trying to convince myself I needed new clothes. In reality, I simply wanted to walk through a mass of humanity. If I was lucky, someone would talk to me. If I was really lucky, someone would brush against me and I would have the privilege of human contact. If I was supremely fortunate, that someone would be a girl. I didn’t necessarily expect to find a suitable life-long helpmate; I was merely starved for human contact. That was what Saturday was like.
This became more evident as I took any opportunity available to hang out with friends or have a group of people over to my house. I looked forward to these events, showed up five minutes early and waited until the last minute to leave. I coaxed others into staying by calling them “lame” for leaving early. I pretended I was joking. I wanted them to feel the truth there. Most of them had families to get home to.
This is the period when I discovered rap sensation, Drake, by way of his most recent album, Take Care. The cover image shows Drake alone, surrounded by symbols of wealth and introspection. The album bears out this theme of loneliness, most notably in his most prominent hit, Headlines where he finally admits: “I guess it really is just me, myself, and all my millions.”
The iOS world-building game, Happy Street, is a deceptively simple simulation of what it’s like to be Drake, alone in a giant space surrounded by no one, with millions to spend. The more you build with your money, the more your happy citizens will enjoy themselves, spending money all the while. They give you money so you can make them even happier. It’s a capitalism simulator in which you are the sole tycoon, alone with your money, sifting constantly through the menus looking for ways to spend it.
There’s times when I might blow 50k on a vacation
For all my souljas just to see the looks on all they faces
I’ve never been one for the preservation of money
Nah, I’d rather spend it all while I’m breathin’
Happy Street’s stated goal is indeed happiness, and the game correctly assumes that one way to achieve happiness is to surround your character with friends. So, how does a rich, lonely man make friends? He buys them, basically.
You click on things to build them, much in the vein of Pocket Planes, Tiny Tower, or any other free-to-play point and click world-building time-waster. While most of these games tend to grow stale or excessively dull, Happy Street maintains the player’s interest with a combination of variety, aesthetic beauty, and a consistent sense of desperation. People are needy, and they all have their own aspirations and needs. Happy Street is explicit about this: the goal is to keep everyone on Happy Street happy. The only way to do this is by spending money and manipulating the surroundings in various ways.
People always ask how I got my nice things
Take my crown to my grave, I’m an underground king
Quests are made up of requests for a flower shop, apple cider, mushroom soup, a pen, a skateboard, a pinball machine, or a myriad of other random requests. Some of these requests are reasonable (“Do you have any food?”) and some are presumptuous (“I want to do something fun!”). Some, though, are simply disturbed. One girl approaches me with the desire to snow-ski. When she is reminded that there is no snow here on Happy Street, she offers me one flooz to make everyone snow-ski by causing them to slip on bird poop. She was serious. Deranged, but serious.
I clicked on Poopy the bird, causing poop to fall onto the ground in front of the feet of my friends, and watched Zoe laugh with delight. I had made her happy, and my other friends simply thought they were unlucky. This was going swimmingly.
The citizens of Happy Street love me. At least, they love Happy Street. They walk back and forth, going from glasses store to fruit stand and back to their condos, all the while smiling and talking to one another. Sometimes I give them birthday presents. They literally FREAK OUT over this. I give them a new hat, a new pair of glasses, or a new shirt and it’s like I gave them a house. It’s good to have friends this easy to please.
We live in a generation of not being in love and not being together
But we sure make it feel like we’re together,
cause we’re scared to see each other with somebody else
Ultimately, spending all this time trying to please this many people means losing a sense of myself. My finger swipes and taps across the screen as fast as possible, juggling requests and expectations, determined to keep my citizens happy so that they’ll never ever leave me. I am pretty sure they all think that I am their best friend. When I see them talking to each other, I get nervous that they are comparing notes.
Happy Street keeps me interested because it gives me the sensation of people pleasing without all of the political fallout, social ineptitude or moral grey areas. Most importantly, it provides the player with all the resources they’ll need to provide for their “loved ones.” It’s not merely a vapid distraction from life. It’s an outlet for my tendency to please people – a way to observe the hollow and absurd nature of what it is to be liked by everyone.
Throughout his album, Drake sings of the paranoia, the heartache and the numbing nature of having group of friends and romantic acquaintances that rely on your wealth and fame for their own happiness. He genuinely seems to appreciate the people in his life, but he’s honest about the profound sense of responsibility he feels. Perhaps most heartbreaking is the sense that those around him wanting or expecting a handout are examples of his status quo.
Drake would love Happy Street: it’s a place where he can make it rain without all the strings attached, and without all of the conditional promises.
Touch if you need to
But I can’t stay to hold you
It’s the wrong thing to do.
About the Author:
Richard Clark is the managing editor of Gamechurch, the editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, and a regular columnist at Unwinnable.
7,972 Responses to “Transacting Happiness”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
This is a tough one to write. For those of you who know me, in person, by my writing, or…
The Fool and the Villain, Part II
(Warning: In Second Life, pixelated tits and dicks abound. Abandon all hope, all ye who enter this article at work.)…
The Edge Of The Ocean
The problem is to plot the map. My sense of geography is spotted with black holes. There’s the Chinatown and…
Play everything. No, I’m serious, play everything. Play that game of hopscotch those kids drew up on the sidewalk with…
Genre In Question
Why are there so few video game comedies? At least twice in the past year I’ve bumped into conversations trying…