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Review: The Humble Meme Merchant: The Adventures of Clive Palmer

Clive Palmer's latest game is the ultimate caricature of Australian populism

Clive Palmer giving thumbs up Artwork by Tanvi Patel

“Look upon Clive Palmer’s Works, ye Mighty, and despair.”

This is the message that could easily replace the opening authorisation notice of The Humble Meme Merchant: The Adventure of Clive Palmer. For Palmer himself, it would surely be a welcome change. Until the release of The Humble Meme Merchant, an abysmal side-scroller with 4.1 stars on the App Store, his most notable achievement was a crumbling Queensland Nickel refinery in Townsville. Or perhaps the remnants of Jacqui Lambie’s political career.

From the outset, the game’s intentions are somewhat ironic. Its players, who control Palmer as he bounds across major Australian cities, could not possibly believe its title. What humility could there be in a man whose self-absorbed billboard slogans have all the detail and nuance of Maoist propaganda playing cards? And believe me—your journey to Canberra will familiarise you with a great number of these party lines: “Demand lower power prices for all Australians”, “Aussies aren’t going to cop it anymore”, and the novel “Make Australia Great / Put Australia First” double-header. Across the levels, a plane flies overhead carrying a banner which reads “Fake News Corp.”

All these unoriginal faux-pas might possibly be bearable, were it not for the excruciatingly repetitive soundtrack that rings in the players’ ears along their journey.

Two parodies comprise the extent of the game’s score. Targeted at a generation raised on two-and-a-half-hour musical odysseys (most likely courtesy of Pokémon developers), this cannot possibly hope to satisfy.

The first parody is a play on Labor’s 1972 “It’s Time” campaign number, a song which predates his target demographic by decades. The second is a legally dubious reworking of Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon”, coming from the fluorescent depths of the early 1980s. All of this presents a rather deflating image of a man whose best years featured the Bee Gees and Joh Bjelke-Petersen. The lyrics speak for themselves: “Clive for Canberra / Clive for history / For going back in time / Yes, it’s Clive!”

There is no great shame in Palmer wanting to return to the days of double-denim and spandex. He’s even created a game that harks back to Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong. But if he wants to bring us with him, he’ll have to offer something more substantial than a billionaire chasing Tim Tams and lyrics so egotistical they would make Noel Gallagher blush.

It is easy to mock the efforts of Palmer’s development team, but the game has both a target and a message. The 2019 federal election will see the United Australia Party (UAP) contest all seats in both Houses, with Palmer likely aiming for a spot in the Senate. Palmer has developed an internet meme community over recent years through bizarre Facebook statuses and videos, and likewise branded himself as the eponymous “humble meme merchant.” Now, we are witnessing a peculiar evolution in billionaire populism.

Ross Perot never had an app. Donald Trump, his inheritor, had Twitter. Are gaming apps the next logical step? If The Adventures of Clive Palmer is anything to go by, then no.

Should Palmer be elected to Parliament later this year, it won’t be because of this pixelated push for the disaffected youth. It will be because many people find solace in Palmer’s place on the Forbes Rich List and their shared disdain for ‘establishment’ types.

The phenomenon was best summarised by Christopher Hitchens in a 1992 article in The Nation, referring to contemporary Perot supporters: “I have found that despite their many charms and courtesies, they want a revolution that is painless to them. They have the self-pity of the self-satisfied.”

But, as apt as this is, it will likely be an older quote that best encapsulates the Palmer legacy, game and all: “Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, the lone an level sands stretch far away.”