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Mystic Messenger is the story of a female heroine who downloads an app on her phone, attracted by the premise of “chatting with hot guys”, only to discover said app is actually the private chat client of a peculiar group.At the same time, Mystic Messenger is also the story of you, the player, downloading a silly otome game only to discover a story about hackers, secret organizations, a brain-washing cult and people bombing your house. Mystic Messenger can often feel as melodramatic as the worse Korean dramas, but it’s also a savage critique of the toxic rules and expectations that govern heteronormative romances. It hides its depth under a coat of glitters and jokes, in the same way its characters hide secrets from each other.
The game’s characters are all members of an organization called RFA, a secret group in charge of organizing fundraising events. Since the founder’s death there haven’t been more parties, but your appearance rekindles enthusiasm. The boys begin to plan another event, and it’s your job to help them by answering mails and persuading high-profile hosts to join the fun. The app plays escort girl Thousand Oaks in real time, with messages and chat rooms popping up at set hours over the course of eleven days. After a day or two of playing, though, it becomes clear that those pretty boys are all desperately single because they’re Walking Human Disasters.
College student Yoosung is chronically depressed and gaming-addicted; Jumin, rich and perpetually busy, has trouble dealing with emotions; the happy-go-lucky hacker 707 is dealing with a dangerous job and a tragic past; Zen is an actor struggling to get recognition; Jaehee is stuck in a job that doesn’t make her happy (more on her later – let’s focus on the boys for now).
The courtship is first of all a journey of healing: the character that catches your fancy will slowly open up to you, and with your help will be able to solve his long-term issues… In more or less a week.But why do the boys open so suddenly on you, a stranger, instead of relying on their friends? Maybe it’s because you’re not simply a new friend, but a girl friend?
We teach boys to not cry. We teach them that aggressiveness is the only emotion they’re allowed to show; that they must be strong for the ladies, protect them, be responsible. Show some balls. We teach them to not talk about their problems, because emotions are girly.As a consequence, girlfriends often find themselves to fulfill two different roles: that of life companion, and of emotional caretaker. You can talk about squishy feelings with your girlfriend, because she won’t laugh at you. She’ll take you seriously. She might even be able to give you some advice; she’s used to Feelings.She will understand. It’s probably one of the reasons this Korean game resonated with so many people from all over the world.
The more you play, the more you realize all the issues in the plot stems from the characters’ inability to communicate. V, the mysterious founder of the group, is the most blatant example – a ghostly figure that rarely appear during chats, and that constantly withholds crucial information from the group (like the aforementioned bomb, a self-defense mechanism that got hacked and became a peril). But each character is a bearer of mysteries, often unwillingly. They’d like to vent, but don’t know how. The boys clearly care about each other, but their reciprocal attempts at giving advice are buried under jokes, relentless mocking and sneers; the digital equivalent of a friendly punch on the shoulder. Lacking the ability to communicate, they vomit their problems all over you as soon as they flag you as Potential Girlfriend – because being a girl, you will understand.
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