The Korean dating simulator Mystic Messengerhas become somewhat of a sensation among over a million women worldwide. It’s an “otome” game (literally, “maiden game”) that offers female players a harem of anime boys to court. These suitors are all charming in their own ways and all have their particular emotional needs. And, goddamn, are they needy.
Hovering at around a million downloads on iOS and Android, Mystic Messenger must have a hook, something easily relatable, that appeals to amorous women worldwide. And yet, although it is built for women, Mystic Messenger is not built for what women want as much as it simulates what we begrudgingly deal with. It’s a dating simulator that makes a game out of emotional labor, a type of work that has players fielding others’ emotional needs at the expense of their own.
Mystic Messenger comes from the decades-old otome genre that rides on trends in dating. Critic Amanda Cosmos describes them as “typically narrative-driven social sims marketed to women where the primary objective is to pursue a romantic relationship with a suitor of the player’s choice.” Players are usually cast as a woman who pursues men. Winning is living happily ever after with your chosen lover. Losing, traditionally, happens when you and your lover don’t vibe.
The plot of Mystic Messenger is instantly compelling: Your in-game character is browsing her smartphone when she accidentally stumbles upon the app, Mystic Messenger. She downloads it and begins chatting with “Unknown.” He leads her to a mysterious apartment, and when she enters, the app grants her access to a chatroom full of delicious men, collectively called the “RFA.” They are planning a benefit party. The woman who used to plan it, the apartment’s previous resident, died. You must take her place and corale guests. Mostly, though, you hang out online with the boys: a stern businessman, a narcissistic actor, a childish “LOLOL” gaming addict, a mysterious photographer and a playful hacker. (There is a woman as well—the businessman’s assistant).
Your dialogue choices propel the game forward, earning you “hearts” on behalf of the men you woo. They dole out hearts when you flatter them or say something in line with their worldview or tastes. Telling them “I don’t exercise, either!” or “You’re such an elite!” and even complimenting a selfie—yes, they send you selfies—earns you kudos. If you don’t elicit enough hearts, you’re confronted with a “bad ending,” or a loss. To avoid that, you must closely pay attention to the emotional needs of the boys. The game’s main mechanic is flattery.
Brilliantly, Mystic Messenger’s plot takes place inside the chat rooms, texts and e-mails of the secret smartphone app. Its level of immersion is absurd and genius. On my iPhone, I received “push notifications” whenever, say, businessman Jumin Han texted me about his meeting. The multi-character chat occurs in real-time. If you miss a chat, you cannot participate in it unless you spend in-game currency (purchasable with real money). The game, in total, takes 11 days to play, and occurs throughout the entirety of those days.
Each boy has his own writing style or font, again adding to Mystic Messenger’s bid for your heart: “she’scutelol,” “Stop shitting around,” “No way~!” and “It’s seriously bad T__T” all describe separate characters, and subtly indicate how to shape yourself into their emotional confidante. Is he an egomaniac about his looks? A gaming-obsessed crybaby? If you want to win, you must be an eager attendant to their emotional states.
On my first playthrough, I didn’t decide on my paramour until a few days in. I wasn’t ready for full-on virtual anime boy devotion. So, whenever I was given the option to compliment the actor’s hairstyle or the businessman’s sharp-mindedness, I withheld praise in favor of more mild responses. I refused to dole out empty, over-eager flattery, hoping that discernment would pay off. But more importantly, I didn’t want to dump on the businessman’s assistant so he’d feel better about overworking her. I didn’t want to reassure the gaming addict that his obsession was cute. And I especially didn’t want to be an endless ego-booster for a shallow actor. As a result, I didn’t earn enough hearts from any one character and, just four days in, met my end. Really—I died.
On my next go-through, I focused my attention on the red-haired trickster-slash-hacker 707. Supposedly the best hacker in Korea, 707 enjoyed wrapping his friends in elaborate pranks between all-nighters defragging ice for some intimidating intelligence agency. I was into it. And I wanted to win. For weeks, I assiduously courted him.
There was just one problem. To win, I was forced to choose between calling my love a literal “God” or berating him with lines like “Stop being ridiculous and just focus on work.” My main channels for success were infuriatingly pandering lines like “Cheer up Seven O Seven! Sevenny! Sevv! Lovely Seven!”, and “God Seven!! Please enlighten us with your presence!”At one point, I had to play along with a joke “outing” the businessman as gay (He was not gay). I discerned what 707 wanted, which was unwavering idolization, and doled it out.
This was how he fell in love with me. I became his emotional ashtray. It was my worst-case-scenario dating situation, presented as the female romantic fantasy. Mystic Messenger is a brilliant, brilliant game, but is also emotional labor, gamified.
“Emotional labor” describes the task of hearing and managing the feelings of others. In work, emotional labor describes how Starbucks cashiers must smile, or how customer service representatives must remain patient. In interpersonal scenarios, emotional labor is a task frequently relegated to women, who are often considered more sensitive than men. That means going out of your way to send supportive texts, compliment outfits, call a friend after a bad date, listen to someone’s career anxieties or patiently nod your head when a date is on an ego trip— and also, “emotional labor” describes the social pressure to do these things.
The term “emotional labor” was coined in 1979 by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. She described is at labor that “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others—in this case, the sense of being cared for in a convivial and safe space. This kind of labor calls for a coordination of mind and feeling, and it sometimes draws on a source of self that we honor as deep and integral to our individuality.” And, sometimes, it drains us of “self” entirely.
“I’ve fielded hundreds of late-night texts, balanced reassurance with tough love, hammered away at stubborn beliefs, sometimes even taken (shudder) phone calls. I’ve actually been on agony aunt duty for male friends since high school, so if it’s true that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something, counseling bereft dudes may in fact be my only expert skill.”
Both men and women need reassurance. But men, Zimmerman argues, tend not to provide it for each other. It can be considered a breach of machismo to break down in another male’s presence. So, emotional labor is, quite often, relegated to women: girlfriends and female friends. It is time-consuming and often thankless.
This brings me back to otome games. The ideal for games like Mystic Messenger is that women are the masters of their own romantic fantasies, which would in theory free them from the too-real burden of spending time (in this case, several weeks) managing men’s emotions, in turn muffling their own. Otome games are a product of shoujo manga, which, in Japanese staples like Fruits Basket or Ouran High School Host Club and Nana, sees the female protagonist rewarded romantically for her authenticity. Sure, men confide their feelings in the protagonists. But those protagonists’ sense of self is never completely eclipsed. Being herself is what makes her irresistible. This is fantasy. This is the female dating fantasy so showcased in contemporary fiction.
The idea that we want to be cheerleaders for virtual boys’ misguided emotional states strikes me as sad. In fact, I hit another “bad ending” in my pursuit of 707, ten days in. I was meticulous with my praise, even when I hated the person I had to be for him. (If you court businessman Jumin Han, he will lock you in his apartment so he can admire you.)
Hilariously, Mystic Messenger even seemed conscious of its demand for my emotional labor: Halfway into my affair with the egomaniacal 707, he broke the 4th wall: “What [Jumin Han] said reminded me of this. I want to invite the leader of the Emotional Labor Organization ‘Only Cry’. . . I heard that ‘Only Cry’ is super good at knowing exactly what’s troubling you.” I balked. Of course, I had to invite them. I soon received an e-mail from “Emotion”:
“Hello, customer~I heard that something was troubling you. How can I help you? Sincerely, Cry Only, aiming to provide the best customer service.”
Oh my god, I thought. Is this for real?
As a dating simulator, Mystic Messenger succeeds, but only because, in real life, emotional labor is often relegated to women. As a fantasy dating simulator, Mystic Messenger is a burden, and a sad reminder that, sometimes, being adored is simply about wholeheartedly adoring somebody else. Self-expression in Mystic Messenger is a bad tactic. When you are no longer a conduit for one man’s goals, you lose. I wonder, then, what emotional labor as a gaming strategy says about developers’ idea of female game-players. And what it says about many of us who relate to this game.
There have been some cool-sounding updates to The Long Dark I really want to check out, because I love the hell out of that game. And I’m probably going to play Overwatch, despite my best intentions, because ‘oh, just one round before I dive into other games’ constantly turns into an entire afternoon.
Amazon Prime now offers a bunch of benefits for Twitch users through a new slate of features called Twitch Prime. Announced at TwitchCon, Prime subscribers get ad-free streaming, free game loot, and discounts on physical games, among other things.
The free game loot for October includes Tyrande Whisperwind, the newest Hearthstone hero, and new stream-based indie game Streamline. Prime subscribers also get the exclusive Boss Ymir skin for Smite and the exclusive Bomb King weapon skin for Paladins, though these items are only available until October 2.
Introducing Twitch Prime! Free game loot, free channel sub every 30 days, the best of Turbo and the best of Amazon Prime, and more! pic.twitter.com/Mequi11BZQ
Additionally, the aforementioned game discounts work in the same way they currently do with Amazon Prime: physical games preordered or bought from Amazon within the first two weeks after launch are discounted.
Twitch Prime also grants players exclusive emotes and a chat badge, as well as one free channel subscription every 30 days. Subscribing to a specific channel is a monthly affair, so it sounds like you’ll be able to stay subscribed to your favourite channel for free as long as you keep up with your Prime subscription. Twitch noted that streamers get paid the same as they would if you subscribed to them normally.
Since it’s bundled with Amazon Prime, Twitch’s new subscription services offers the same bonuses. All you have to do is link your accounts, and you’ll get things like free two-day shipping, unlimited movie and TV streaming, and ad-free music streaming. You can check out the full list of Amazon Prime benefits here.
You can try the new subscription service free for 30 days at the official website. Check out the available countries and subscription costs in the list below.
US: $11/month or $100/year
Canada: CAD $79/year
Germany: EUR 49/year
France: EUR 49/year
Italy: EUR 20/year
Spain: EUR 20/year
Twitch Turbo will continue to exist for users already subscribed and regions where Twitch Prime is unavailable. In the countries where it is available, Turbo subscriptions will no longer be taken, instead rolling its benefits into Twitch Prime.
From now until October 5, Twitch is hosting an event that benefits GameChanger Charity, which helps raise money and awareness for children with cancer. Twitch Prime will donate $100,000 for every 100,000 new subscriptions to any channel on Twitch. It can be to any channel, so using your free subscription will help with the cause no matter who you choose. You can get more information on Twitch.
In this week’s episode of The Save Files, we look at the ridiculous ways people have tried to exorcise ghosts in The Sims 4, a mystery within Binding of Issac, and the latest on Resident Evil 7’s finger.
For those of you who missed it, THE SAVE FILES is a new YouTube show where we tackle gaming mysteries every week.
If you have a game, mystery, or concept you think I should cover with The Save Files, make sure to drop me a line either here, in the YouTube comments, or via email: email@example.com
Earlier today, a live orchestral concert featuring the music of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was announced. Now, the composer of Skyrim’s soundtrack, Jeremy Soule, has spoken out, and he’s not particularly pleased with the news.
“Concert? What concert???” he said in a post on his official Facebook page. “Anyone that knows me also knows that I care passionately about the integrity of my music. Skyrim took years for me to compose and it was constructed very carefully. Today, I’m seeing reports of a concert of Skyrim. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
The event, called Skyrim in Concert, was announced today by UK music promoter Senbla, which partnered with Elder Scrolls developer Bethesda to make it happen. According to Soule, he was never asked to be involved.
“For the record, this concert has nothing to do with me, nor are they using any of my original scores,” he said. “They had to transcribe whatever notation they are performing by ear from the recordings. This is a flawed process as transcriptions are always fraught with errors.”
A careful look at today’s press release reveals that the concert is only “[b]ased on the award winning score by Jeremy Soule.” His lack of involvement isn’t exactly highly touted.
“To be sure, I don’t know who these people are and I don’t endorse a concert that is trading on my name and music that has absolutely no oversight or involvement on my part,” Soule continued. “For my fans, I just want you to know what you’re getting if you pay to attend this concert. Be wary.”
We’ve contacted Bethesda to verify Soule’s claims and will report back with anything we learn. Tickets don’t go on sale until October 4.
Skyrim in Concert is scheduled to take place in London on November 16. This is just a couple weeks after the enhanced version of Skyrim, Skyrim Special Edition, is released on PC, Xbox One, and PS4.