Wall Street Kid – NES
Or: Why I’m Never Here Anymore
Release Date (NA): June 1990
Nerd Rating: 5 out of 10
Reviewed by Nike Halifax
“I always gagged on the silver spoon.”
I don’t have the luxury of time anymore, and it sucks ass. It makes me frustrated. I just don’t have time for anything. The days go by so fast yet so slow, and I’m so drained by the end. I just want to yell out. I want to yell out and scream “where did my time go? Who took it from me? Give it back!”
I want to yell it, but I know I shouldn’t. Because I’m the one who took my time away. I got a job. A full time job. I did it for the money, I did it for the resume. I certainly didn’t do it for the experience.
Consider me, 22, locked in a dead-end job. It’s short term (hopefully)–a way to pay off student loans and save up some more money before plunging into grad school. Consider working 40 hours a week, 9 dollars an hour. No consecutive days off. All my life I had weekends, now they’re gone. It’s a call center. I service car loans for a “prestigious” company via a third party contractor. I get paid half as much as first-party employees. I get none of the benefits.
People yell at me all day, pissed off because their loan application got declined. They have no credit history, are younger than me, have already had three wives and two kids, make $1400 a month, and expect to qualify for a $40,000 car loan. The company itself is a great lie–rampant with incompetence, deceit, and stubborn inefficiency, it banks its reputation on word-of-mouth espoused by people who have never known anything else and therefore don’t know any better.
In short, I work for a cultish permutation of Big Brother. By criticizing it, I risk getting fired should they ever stumble across this website. It’s really nothing personal. I don’t hate my job, it’s just unfulfilling and stressful. I don’t hate the company, I just hate corporate culture in general. It’s gross. Perhaps I’m biased just because it isn’t my bank.
I also hate banking. I find it really boring, and, unfortunately, it’s all I do in my job. I take calls, process loans, deny single mothers living on welfare because they’re “high risk,” and get bitched at by literal millionaires because our lowest rates simply aren’t low enough. Long story short, banking isn’t very fun. It’s cold, it’s soulless, and it’s discriminatory against the disadvantaged. It’s not a concept well-suited to video games.
Enter The Wall Street Kid, SOFEL’s rags-to-riches odyssey about old money acquiring vast sums of new money in order to keep the dream of class stratification alive. I say rags-to-riches with a grain of salt, as the game is about going from a relatively small $500,000 to an eventual $600 billion. “Rags to riches” is still appropriate, it’s just that the rags are made of fine Chinese silk.
You play as the not-notable Benedict, the titular Wall Street Kid. You’re more than likely an upstart yuppie who’s never had to work a day in his life, and probably never will. Your distant relative, Uncle Benedict
Cumberbatch, has recently passed away. As the sole heir in his will, the good uncle has left you over 600 billion dollars in assets, thus making you the richest man alive by virtue of the Lucky Sperm Club. However, there’s a catch. The will stipulates that you must demonstrate a degree of financial responsibility. More specifically, you are given one month to turn a “mere” $500,000 dollars into a million. This is stage one of The Wall Street Kid.
Folks, I dream small. About $500,000 small. If you came to me with $500,000 and told me to make it a million in a month, I’d tell you “no thanks.” I’d take the money, sure, but I’d have no real ambition to make it grow. I’d pay off my loans, fix up my car, help out some friends, start a retirement account, give to some charities, pay myself through grad school, and hire some financial advisers on my next steps. I’d get a decent career, one that may not even pay six figures, and live with the comfort that I have several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of nest eggs sitting in my bank accounts. Sure there’d be taxes, but oh well.
Furthermore, If you told me some long lost relative of mine had died and left me 600 billion dollars in assets, I’d wonder why I never heard of him. I would assume, correctly, that he was a man obsessed with his fortune at the expense of everything and everyone else. I was all he had left, and he probably never even knew my name.
I imagine big man Charlie Foster himself sitting all on his lonesome at Xanadu, chewing cigars and waiting for the day he can leave it all behind and go back to what he never had: a childhood, a kind heart, a warm body. A sled. Like the Citizen himself, good uncle Benedict probably died alone, curled up and pathetic, in a pile of his own excess.
The moment you start the game, it’s readily apparent that the same fate awaits you at the end of the road…at least to me. On its surface, Wall Street Kid is a goofy stock-market simulator with offbeat characters and cheeky writing–the kind of stuff you’d find on old Macintosh computers in the school computer lab. In fact, that’s all it is; there is absolutely no deeper meaning whatsoever. But I found one anyway. First, however, I need to discuss the actual game.
It’s hard to call Wall Street Kid an investment sim because it’s more of a white-collar reality. Most of the game takes place in your New York apartment. Gameplay is limited to pointing and clicking at different objects around the room and navigating the resulting dialog boxes and submenus. You have the computer, which manages your stocks; the flower vase, which is how you socialize with your fiance; the whatever-the-fuck-that-one-thing-is, which is how you keep yourself fit; the clock, which skips you to the next day; and the window, which does nothing because there is no world outside of wealth management. There are also three buttons that you can click on–one takes you to the bank to take out a loan, one has a “financial adviser” who charges you $500 to explain basic economics, and one offers you
insider trading tips on which stocks you to invest in.
Of all these items, the most important are the buttons and the computer. Stock management isn’t just the meat of the game, it is the game. You start each day checking the Wall Street Times, which tells you which stocks are on the rise. You also get cheeky headlines about old men running marathons, giant cockroach infestations, and dangerous chemicals in public pools, but there are only so many. They’ll repeat often and they’re not that funny to begin with, but I’ll let them slide.
The point is your day consists of buying stocks, selling stocks, getting advice on which stocks to buy, and balancing your fortune with your social life. Outside of the timed element of the objective (in-game days only last a few minutes, and you usually have monthly deadlines to meet) and the inherent luck that comes in playing the stock market, WSK’s challenge comes from making sure you don’t get too consumed with your fortune. You have to make sure you find time to go on hikes, go swimming, go shopping with your girlfriend, go on a picnic, or to do other
asinine important things. In fact, the money serves a greater purpose: building a better life for you and your fiance. Imagine that.
See, I think Wall Street Kid is actually a social subtle commentary on the American dream. If you devote all your time in the game to stock trading, you’ll get rich, maybe–but you’ll also destroy yourself. The more you neglect your fiance, the more the flowers in the vase begin to wilt. If you stay cooped up inside all day, the mirror (I think) on your desk turns from blue to black. Should either reach their absolute nadir, it’s game over for you. And WSK doesn’t fuck around with its Game Overs. When you get a Game Over, the game lets you know how financially incompetent or socially unacceptable you are. Then the background music abruptly cuts off and the game kicks you to a GAME OVER screen. You can’t press anything to return to the main menu–you have to reset the system.
That’s some real hardcore shit, folks. Just like real banking, you can’t go back on your mistakes; you have to start over and work your way back up. Sure, you can dispute any hits on your credit with the credit bureaus in real life, and WSK generates a save password for you at the end of each in-game week that you can use to start at a later point in the game, but both are archaic and stressful solutions to major problems. At least in the case of the credit bureaus you’re actually doing something to improve your life and financial well-being–Wall Street Kid is just a fucking video game. A video game with 40-character-long save passwords. Color sensitive, alpha-numeric save passwords.
You know, I’m torn on what to think of Wall Street Kid. Part of me wants to believe that it’s all a farce and a commentary on greed. Your
fiance only contacts you when she wants you to buy her a dog or a car. Every interaction is an economic or financial transaction, or a means to an end. Your success is literally judged by the accumulation of wealth and property. Mission one–to turn 500K into a million–is all for the sake of purchasing a nice house. Mission two is to acquire even more money and use it to buy a yacht. The game’s ultimate goal, it seems, is to buy back the family castle located somewhere in Europe.
The game presents itself like a pulpy newspaper comic about taking over Wall Street one stock exchange at a time. The end screen is literally you standing on a mountain of money with your wife praising you in a vaguely sexual fashion. I could draw parallels to Wall Street, given the time of the game’s release, but Wolf of Wall Street seems like a more fitting comparison. Wall Street actually has some form of commentary on greed and corruption. The Wolf of Wall Street acknowledges that it’s there, and that it’s bad, but doesn’t offer any insight–it’s a character piece.
Wall Street Kid is actually just a mildly addicting, semi-charming, unintentionally thought-provoking Americanization of a weird Japanese money game. If you were to ask me, however, I’d tell you it’s an ironic bildungsroman wherein you can only progress by leading your character down the path of damnation. It’s the kind of game that calls into question how we as a society measure success. Or why the hell we’re still playing it when Mega Man 2 is sitting on the shelf.
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