RWP Week #8 – Mystic Messenger

There were a few things that weren’t really for me in Mystic Messenger – although I think some of these things can be attributed to me not being the target audience here. Otome games like Mystic Messenger are designed with women (generally either students or working women) in mind, so I think many of the norms of otome games / dating games in general are things that I’m just not used to. However, I still want to talk about what didn’t really sit right for me. First, while I think the use of real-time elements is interesting and engaging, it definitely approaches a level where the game can become what is almost an intrusive element into someone’s life. The main route for the game requires ~11 days of the player to be vigilant and ready to access their phone, and while the designers have intentionally designed accommodations for the 9-5 work life within how these calls are spaced throughout the 11 days, it is still quite the commitment. In addition to missing particular story beats or failing to reach a particular ending, missing any of the calls ends up in the player receiving messages of disappointment or admonishment. The game seems to make you want to feel as though you have let down or even harmed another person as a result of your actions, which I think invokes a particular emotional guilt that I think is much harder to separate as fiction, at least for myself. 

This wouldn’t be so bad if not for one of the core monetization methods of the game – by purchasing the in-game currency of hourglasses, the player is able to essentially rewind time and replay certain portions of the game that they might’ve missed. When this is the only way that the player can potentially resolve the feelings of guilt that they might be feeling (outside of a complete reset), this method of monetization feels somewhat predatory, taking advantage of the human instinct to support others when they aren’t doing as well. While the use of the hourglass in Mystic Messenger is moreso a problem whose root cause lies in the way monetization is handled in mobile games themselves as a result of Apple’s business practices rather than an outright problem with the game, it’s still something that I wish didn’t need to exist in the game.

In general this aspect of emotional burdens and emotional labor being placed on the player is one that seems rife throughout Mystic Messenger’s storylines and gameplay, and it’s something that the article Investing Time for Your In-Game Boyfriends and BFFs explores quite heavily. I think this article is really able to articulate what exactly made me somewhat uncomfortable about the game – the game’s scenarios, many of the dialogue options, and its monetization system “literally commodifies women’s time as something that can be traded for love and affection. If one does not have time, one should either make time or find the resources to buy time”. It pushes a fairly insidious norm that if you aren’t sacrificing your time and wellbeing, then you don’t deserve reciprocated love, which is just something that I find a little bit off putting. 

But to be fair, all the guys are really hot.

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  1. Hey Anthony, loved how you highlighted the emotional guilt that a player may feel when they miss a call, and how predatory it seems for the game to give you a way to assuage that feeling of guilt but only through purchasing hourglasses with real money. This type of game mechanic can definitely put out unrealistic and unhealthy expectations of love out there.

  2. Hey Anthony, I shared a similar sentiment with the game myself. I found it a bit intrusive and a bit too punishing when I missed calls. Maybe I also was not the target audience for this? Cause I need a hell lot of space and leave my phone on DND. The monetization also didn’t sit too right with me. I did enjoy the chats and calls when I could get to them in time, but I felt that my time was not important or respected by the game (I guess submission of autonomy is a part of catharsis and fun for other people, but was not true for me in this game). But yeah the guys are really hot, I agree.

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