In Japan it’s called The Money Game. The name is direct, almost shamefully so. When it was released here in 1990, it was twisted into something friendly. Wall Street Kid. PG13ification of a culture that’s more comfortable selling kids than hugging them. Wall Street means capitalism. Business. It means making invisible money. It means invisible money turning into fast cars, meals at nice restaurants, gold embossed business cards, Cerruti suits. It implies a world where money is freedom.
The reality of Wall Street Kid: Trapped in my office all day, making calls, checking stocks, reading the paper, buying and selling. I can see my office. 8-bit chic. The phone, a single potted plant, my new IBM with built-in floppy. I spend most of the game in menus reading up on stocks. I’m trapped by the menu-driven interface, the white bordered boxes. In the office I can see a window, but can never look outside. The game is telling me I should be more active. Me, the character, not me, the person. So I go to another menu and select go “to the pool”, but instead of swimming, its just a sentence, white on a black screen, and I’m back at the office.
I’ve grown to resent my girlfriend. I do not like her. She only seems to call me to spend money. I can let her have a certain type of dog, a certain type of jewelry. I cannot ask her about her day, maybe because she never asks about mine. Like everything in the game she has a price, one that keeps rising. I can go on a date with her, but what’s the point? I’m back in the office. Buy low, sell high.
Where does all that money go? I bought a house (“It’s nice. Oh, just a million. You should come by sometime.”), but I’m never in it. She’s calling me again, asking for money for furniture I’ll never use. She doesn’t know I’ve taken a loan against the house so I can buy some ATNT stock. I’ve got a hot tip. When it pays off I’ll buy a boat. I’d like to call it “The Good Life,” People will see my yacht while on their own yacht and nod in recognition. It is the good life, is what their nod will say.
The first goal is to buy a home within a month, then it’s to buy a castle. Why do I need a castle? I don’t, not really. Does anybody need a castle? No, not really. It’s a symbol, a trophy, an achievement, a high score. I’ll have a castle, and everybody else won’t. I’ll be at the top of the leaderboard. I did it in the most soulless way possible, but I did it. The Wall Street Kid has become the 1%.
This game, maybe, was supposed to be about freedom, the freedom that money gives you. A re-skinned power fantasy for the Reaganomics age. Maybe it was supposed to be about all the sexiness we associate with Wall Street, or even just the thrill of money in its most uncomplicated form, as a means of getting the stuff we want. But Wall Street Kid undermines that even when it’s trying to sell the myth to you. Money is ephemeral in the game. One day you can have $600,000 in stocks, but the next, half that. You can be a millionaire on paper, but the bank’s got a lien on your mansion. The chase for more is especially meaningless because it doesn’t lead to anything. You’re back in your office with your sad plant and the clock racing 15 minutes at a time, but it never feels like time passes. We have been promised heaven, but in Wall Street Kid, we are desk jockeys in purgatory.