If the premise of High Heels! sounds ludicrous, well, that’s because it is.
You’re a glamorous avatar wearing a pair of magenta pumps. You need to hit the runway, but a series of strange obstacles — including large gaps in the road spannable only by completing a split — stand between you and the captive audience, and each obstacle literally knocks your shoes off if not properly handled.
You’ll want to snatch the diamonds and gold keys on your way, too, but they’re in tricky locations, between stacked boxes that threaten to knock you down another peg. The good news is you can collect additional heels on your run, stacking them until you reach the sky. And what better feeling is there than strutting around with your head in the clouds?
High Heels! is purposefully simple in its controls and level structure, and that’s exactly why it works as well as it does. There’s minimal thinking involved but lots of unadulterated joy. It’s the perfect game for a drawn-out global pandemic.
And the public seems to agree: As of this writing, High Heels! is sitting at the very top of the App Store’s gaming category, a spot it first claimed on January 21, according to data from Sensor Tower. In the intervening weeks, it’s held onto that crown save for a few quick dips to number two. Even more impressively, the game has at times been the second-most-downloaded free app across Apple’s entire marketplace — a spot usually occupied by powerhouses like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.
The game was developed by Rollic, a subsidiary of Zynga, the publisher behind FarmVille. Rollic’s director of art and design, Inci Alper, says the team expected the game to be a hit, but not that it would soar to such great heights. “It turned out to be a game that every single player thoroughly enjoys,” Alper tells Input in an email, “and we’re thrilled to see how enthusiastic people are about High Heels!.”
The game owes its success in no small part to chatter about it across social media. Videos of High Heels! have been going viral on TikTok since the game’s launch in late December, racking up millions of views and thousands of comments. Zynga put out a series of video advertisements across TikTok as well, with some truly wild narration.
It’s these ads that first brought the game to my attention. What intrigued me most, though — other than the figure strutting an obstacle course in absurdly high heels — was the ad’s queer messaging. “Yass queen pop off,” a robotic voice reads as the ad comes to an end, the avatar having reached the stage at the end of the level. “As you should.”
The “yass queen” is enough to tip off anyone with even the scarcest of queer knowledge. It’s a term with origins in the ballroom scene, where queer people (predominantly BIPOC) gather to compete in various dance, lip-syncing, and modeling categories. The phrase has since made its way into the mainstream, with help from popular shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and movies like Paris Is Burning.
The phrase is inseparable from queer culture, and its inclusion in this popular ad immediately positions High Heels! as a game marketed to queer people. But the game’s creators insist they did not set out to make an explicitly queer game. “We want our games to be relatable to everyone,” Alper says. “The High Heels! community, which we are thrilled to see grow, came up with some amazing catchphrases that fit perfectly with our game. These phrases were welcomed by us and all of our players.”
Just about every part of High Heels! has a similar queer spin. The game’s avatars, which can be unlocked by collecting diamonds and watching ads, come in a wide spectrum of gender presentations and body types — not just man or woman, skinny or fat, but every shade in between. Feel like presenting as a she-devil? Sure, add some red horns atop your head, why not? In the world of High Heels!, all of these characters are femme; everyone stacks their heels to survive.
In response to my questions about whether or not any of the game’s creators identify as members of the LGBTQ community, Alper is coy: “At Rollic, we proudly see diversity as one of our greatest strengths. We bring together associates with diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences in an environment where we seek authenticity.”
Either way, it’s refreshing to be rewarded for being queer. And the game’s queerness has been bolstered by an enthusiastic response from the LGBTQ community, particularly on social media. Screenshots and videos of the game are absurd with or without context, perfect for memes that capture the game’s chaotic queer aesthetic. This, of course, makes sense. More surprising is the community that’s gathered in the reviews section of the High Heels! page on the app store.
Users have taken to leaving enormously lengthy comments detailing not only how much they enjoy the game but how much it’s changed their lives for the better. Using the reviews functionality — particularly on Apple’s App Store — has become a game in and of itself.
“GET NOW CURES DEPRESSION,” one review headline reads. “This game flipped my life around,” reads another. And that’s only the beginning; a huge number of reviews for the game tell absurdist stories with full narrative arcs. Many users use the reviews space to recount stories in which High Heels! helps them realize they’re a “baddie” — a femme fatale type with the confidence of a minor deity — and overcome various struggles, like the death of a goldfish or overwhelming daddy issues.
We can assume High Heels! hasn’t actually “cured” anyone’s depression — but there is some merit to the distractions it provides from the harsh realities of living in 2021, when we’re all stuck indoors and queer-coded joy is even less easy to come by. Whether or not its creators intended it, High Heels! deserves credit for being a space around which the queer community can celebrate being femme as hell. As they should!