Many of us lead double lives: our life in reality, and our life in the safe confines of our boundless imagination.
Some people are brave enough to write down their daydreams on sites like Archive of Our Own to share with the world. Some of those fanfictions of OCs (original characters) or “self-inserts”—where a writer inserts themselves into a story or in the lives of celebrities they love—develop into expansive and hugely popular stories. Very few become something bigger than a free-to-read story that makes no profit and is created at the cost of many hours of blood, sweat and tears. Only one peaks in the Apple App Store charts of 25 countries only hours after its release. BTS World is your self-insert fanfiction about BTS come to life, for better and worse—but more than anything, it’s a huge love letter to fans that fits on the small screen of your phone.
In BTS World, you play as a female fan who is magically plunged back in time to when the biggest boy band in the world hadn’t been formed. (This feels dismissive of the many male ARMYs—the name of BTS’ fandom—out there, though according to fans on Twitter, it seems to be a problem with certain translations and not the original Korean content.) The game takes you on an idealized version of what it’s like to be the manager of a K-Pop group by making you BTS’s manager, which consists of anything from helping the members create music to strengthening their bonds.
BTS World works like a visual novel: you advance through the story and make choices that affect the text you encounter. The game incorporates a card system where each member has a card that you have to level up in order to progress through several chapters.
More than anything, the game’s systems exist to engage with fans’ love for BTS. There are photo albums to acquire, calls you have with the members, private and group chats, an Instagram-esque social media platform where you can interact with the members, and even clips that the band filmed exclusively for this game. The images of the BTS members are dialed up to 150% in ways that are sometimes funny, sometimes cringy. But it’s all nonetheless a celebration of the things we’ve come to know about them through variety shows, documentaries like Burn the Stage and personal interviews.
I’m not an ARMY—I love most of the music I’ve heard from BTS but I haven’t listened to their entire albums, and I only properly stan girl groups. However, I’ve spent many hours watching the members on variety shows because they’re so entertaining. You’ll see so much of their personalities and real stories reflected here. BTS World understands the joys of being a K-pop fan: it’s not just about the music; it’s also about enjoying the extensions of these groups as they display their personalities on variety shows, stream on apps like V LIVE and frequently interact with fans.
I’d be remiss to pretend like BTS World is a flawlessly wholesome thing, though. While I want to be a professional manager, I’m forced to flirt with the band members or be flirted with far more often than I’d like. I get it—if I was magically transported to an alternate reality where I was the manager of K-pop girl group ITZY and I had to interact with my ultimate bias, member Shin Ryujin, I would absolutely struggle to act unfazed. But a simple conversation with Jin in which I tell him to enjoy his takeout rapidly turns into him expressing sadness that he has to eat the meal without me, to which my response can only be, “You keep thinking about me, huh?” Or I unwillingly reply to RM’s indecisiveness about what to wear with, “You’re trying to choose a nice outfit to look good for me, huh?”
I would’ve appreciated more dialogue options; sometimes, I felt like my only options were Flirty or Mean when I would’ve liked to be friendly or firm but empathetic. I imagine it’s good fun for some—and in the grand scheme of things, flirting with celebrities in the virtual space of a videogame is a relatively safe alternative to being a sasaeng (obsessive fans who stalk and invade the privacy of the groups they like) or making idols uncomfortable in person. But I would be lying if I said I feel entirely comfortable with it since these men are real human beings. At least, as if to help me avoid this issue, Suga—my favorite in the group—has his reserved nature in the real world translated into this game as a general dislike of anything I do.
The reality is that I’m probably not the target audience for this game, and that’s okay. The ARMY is massive and extremely loyal to BTS—so much that they have made this game become one of the biggest apps in the world. BTS World is a love letter to ARMY, who have worked hard to help BTS achieve all the success their hard work has brought them. It’s nowhere near perfect—but when has that ever stopped anyone from stanning?
Natalie Flores is a freelance writer who loves to talk about games, K-pop and too many other things at @heartimecia.