Mystic Messenger: Virtual Dating and Toxic Masculinity
Giving the visual storytelling game a closer look.
Downloaded over a million times from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store, Mystic Messenger is the first mobile game released by a small Korean company, Cheritz.
It’s a virtual dating game with a unique plot: the player character downloads a mysterious chat app that leads her to become part of a fundraising association, where she has the opportunity to flirt with several handsome boys.
However, in this article we’re not going to talk about tips and tricks to make the most out of Mystic Messenger. Instead, we’ll reflect on some parts of its story, where the characters display toxic masculinity or homophobia.
How does Mystic Messenger work
Mystic Messenger is not a game you can quit and resume whenever you want. Its chatroom, which is the core of the whole game, works in real time, and you have to keep up with it in order to get a good ending. In addition, you’ll receive text messages and calls from the characters at any time during the day.
This feature is supposed to make the game feel like chatting with real people, but it’s also one of the main reasons why Mystic Messenger has been criticized. After all, you’re not supposed to answer messages from a virtual date while you’re working, right?
As for many other dating sim games, the purpose is to attract the guy of your choice. The way you reply to IM and text messages, through preset multiple choice responses, will determine the ending of the game.
LGBT issues in the game
Unfortunately, Mystic Messenger reflects the widespread LGBT intolerance of its country, South Korea.
One of the characters, the businessman Jumin, gets constantly pranked by his friends for being supposedly gay. Instead, he’s on the asexual spectrum at the beginning of the story. Tough circumstances of his past caused him to lose interest in women, and dedicate all his spare time to his female Persian cat.
Also, it’s implied that the player must be female. Technically, during the first chat of the game you have the opportunity to say that you’re not a woman, but only as a joke. This has been criticized by fans from all around the world, who feel that trans and non-binary people too should get the chance to play their favorite game.
However, surprisingly, in Mystic Messenger you have the opportunity to attract a lesbian love interest: Jaehee, a short-haired young woman who works as Jumin’s personal assistant.
This addictive visual novel game also portrays some characters who embody toxic masculinity. For example, Jumin forces his assistant Jaehee to keep her hair short and wear non-prescription glasses, because he doesn’t want her to look “too attractive”.
Another character whose masculinity could be called toxic is Zen, a narcissistic actor who’s obsessed with his own beauty. Once he falls in love with the player character, he quickly becomes jealous and possessive, to the point of telling her that she’s not allowed to talk with other men.
Zen is also involved in a shady story of false sexual harassment allegations. At a certain point in his career, he’s contacted by a famous singer, Echo Girl, who wants him to act in one of her shows. The star tries to seduce him but, when she gets refused, she accuses him of sexual harassment with a notorious media outlet.
References to Fifty Shades of Grey
During the game, if you try to win Jumin’s heart with chats and text messages, you’ll soon discover that everything in his behavior reminds of Christian Grey from E.L. James’ bestseller saga.
During one of the various routes of the game, Jumin locks the player character in his own penthouse to protect her from a dangerous hacker. He becomes overly possessive, refusing to let her leave even when the peril is over.
One of the lines he says seems written by E.L. James herself: “I wish I could put my name tag all over your body, to say that you’re mine…”
In one of the bad endings of the game, the player becomes Jumin’s 24/7 sex slave and gets imprisoned in his penthouse forever.
That said, Mystic Messenger is an incredibly engaging game, and it’s worth playing for all the lovers of the dating sim genre. Just remember that, in real life, relationships don’t need to work like the ones you live out in this interactive visual novel!