A new trend is seeing some creators impersonating NPCs, or video game characters that aren’t controlled by players
Rafqa, I tend not to overthink TikTok trends too much. Really I’m just scrolling to watch food videos. But I saw a video of a girl acting like a video game character in a loop, and the absurdity got me curious. What on earth are TikTok users doing?
I’m not surprised this one sucked you in. So, creators are streaming to their followers on the app in real time, pretending to be NPCs – that is non-player video game characters – and their followers are controlling what they say and do, and paying for the privilege.
It sounds odd. But just imagine playing around with a two-dimensional character in a video game – but that character is a human livestreaming to TikTok.Read more
Wait, what is an NPC?
You know when you play a video game and there’s the character that you control? Well, and NPC are the other characters in the games that aren’t being played by a human – the ones that can only repeat phrases and movements from a preprogrammed set of options. Think like in a game where you stumble across a shopkeeper you can interact with, but they’ve only got a very limited set of interactions available.
But creators aren’t acting as specific well-known NPCs from popular games (like TikTok cosplayers sometimes do) – they are just embodying the character type, responding to their audiences with repetitive movements, facial expressions and dialogue.
How exactly are followers controlling what they say and do?
If you hop into one of these live streams, you’ll hear the same few catchphrases and gestures repeated in a nonstop loop. The order they appear in is chosen by viewers who purchase cartoon gift tokens – like roses – with real-life money and send them in the live comment section.
Different gift tokens prompt a specific gesture or line of dialogue – so viewers become like video game players controlling the NPCs.
Are people just watching because it is bizarre? Or is there more to it?
There’s always more to it.
The repetition of NPC streaming is oddly entrancing (which is why I’m not surprised it sucked you in). One creator sits fully clothed and wearing a sombrero in a bathtub, splashing water and greeting viewers in a robotic loop. Another adds a children’s sticker to her face for every gift that is sent.
But when you realise the nonsensical, cartoonish content is paid for by faceless viewers, it can feel a bit eerie.
Pinkydoll is a character by creator Fedha Sinon who has become the face of the trend. She does a series of odd things in response to her viewers’ “gifts”. Famously, she repeats “ice-cream so good” in a robotic tone, with her tongue out, licking a pretend-cone, when sent an ice-cream token. And when her viewers send a rose token, they are greeted with Pinkydoll’s “yes, yes, yes”.
It’s all a bit disorienting.
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OK, so people use emoji gifts – money – to control their performance. Sounds a bit … fetish-y?
There is nothing overtly sexual about the content, but yes.
The New York Times reports of Pinkydoll speaking in a “sexy baby” singsong voice, with some viewers perceiving “something sexual about being able to control her every word and gesture”. And like other trending NPC streamers, Pinkydoll also has OnlyFans accounts with explicit content. An expert in internet culture told the Guardian it is “repackaging intimacy through the filter of gamer language”.
Whether it is made to be sexual content, or some viewers just consume it that way, there is no dispute as to whether these videos belong in the uncanny valley. But Pinkydoll doesn’t seem to care how people perceive it.
“At the end of the day, I’m winning,” she told the New York Times.
And why is she winning? What’s in it for the content creator?
$7,000 on a good day.
TikTok’s gift system works like this: users buy virtual coins with real-life money. They use those coins to buy gift tokens (those roses and ice-creams), which they send in the live stream to “control” the creator (we’ve already been through this).
Creators can claim those gifts for real-life money by converting them into gift coins, then virtual diamonds, then cash. Each individual gift can range from being worth a cent to a few dollars.
Pinkydoll reportedly makes up to $3,000 a stream, and has made $7,000 in a day. Perhaps it’s time to consider an NPC side hustle?