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BTS World is straight up self-insert fanfiction

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You’re going to be the Bangtan Boys and you’re going to like it

BTS World Big Hit Entertainment | Netmarble Corp | Takeone Company

BTS World’s premise could have been lifted out of a self-insert fanfiction.

A visual novel-esque game produced by Netmarble, BTS World sets you to manage the South Korean boy band BTS in its most nascent stages. After winning a ticket to see the band in concert, you find yourself whisked back from 2019 to 2012, the year before the group’s debut. From there, you discover that not only have you traveled back in time, you are inexplicably an employee of BigHit Entertainment, BTS’ company, and are responsible for bringing the group together.

It’s a simple enough setup that puts the player character immediately into direct contact with the members through a series of visual novel sequences, video cutscenes, and texts and phone calls from the members. The majority of the story takes place in the visual novel format, where you click through interactions between the player character and the members. Text conversations, phone calls, and a modified social media feed give you dialogue and comment options that, while limited, allow you to gain the members’ favor.

A text conversation that takes place in BTS World. Netmarble via Palmer Haasch/Polygon

What struck me the most while playing, however, was how much the game itself reads like straight fanfiction. Aside from being a casual fanfiction reader, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on character archetypes in BTS fanfiction specifically, and BTS World’s characterizations deeply resonate with the simplified archetypes which populate BTS fanfiction.

Min Yunki is a bad boy who skids past you on his motorcycle and locks himself in his studio for days on end; Park Jimin is a sweet, hopeful kid who’s eager to please; Kim Taehyung is spacey and talks to flowers; Kim Seok Jin is responsible for keeping the group fed and well; Jeon Jeongguk is the shy maknae (a Korean word for the youngest in a group); leader Kim Namjun is at times overly critical and takes the pressure of the group on his shoulders.

Jeon Jeongguk dialogue image from BTS World. He hugs himself, and is saying, “I’m sorry... it was too awkward...” Netmarble via Palmer Haasch/Polygon

The simple characterization doesn’t necessarily feel unprofessional, just jarring. It was surprising to see fandom norms emerge so strongly in an official band product. This, in conjunction with the fact that the player character is frequently characterized as flustered and obsessive, make it somewhat difficult to fully immerse yourself in the game.

Additionally, the English version of the game defaults uses only she/her pronouns for the player character; BTS World does not allow players to change their gender. While the game is clearly targeted to young women, the unique use of she/her pronouns alienates a significant subset of potential players who use other pronouns and do not identify as female.

As for gameplay itself, that is limited by a series of challenges that require playing cards with specific traits — stamina, passion, wisdom, and empathy — to clear a point threshold. Players must level up and acquire cards as they go in order to progress. There are, of course, in-app purchases to get these cards, but for those who want to play for free, the process is tedious, at best, and significantly hinders story progress.

BTS World card collection. Netmarble via Palmer Haasch/Polygon

Still, there’s something to be said for the ridiculous wave of joy I felt while clicking through awkward interactions with Jeongguk, or watching the members compete for the best sleeping spots. Playing for half an hour during my commute had me spiraling into an “extreme fan mood” and half-laughing, half-cooing at every awkward pose the character avatars made in the game. I’ve been a dedicated BTS fan for upwards of two years, but playing BTS World I harkened back to my early days when was just getting to know the members for the first time. The original soundtrack for the game, which features collaborations with Charli XCX, Zara Larsson, and Juice WRLD, is also a highlight.

Overall, BTS World is a fine game. Even hindered by the in-app purchase structure and stilted dialogue, it still brings some of the magic that makes the band appealing to fans in the first place. I don’t see myself putting significant time in it, but I won’t hesitate to pick it up if I need a quick burst of fan ridiculousness.

BTS World is currently available worldwide on both Android and iOS.