The internet is no stranger to weird trends. A largely unregulated space brings plenty of creative opportunities, so it’s fair to say that the online world is full of niche ideas that many have optimised.
TikTok NPC live streaming is one of those niche ideas. An NPC – or non-playable character – is a video game character not controlled by the player. They are known for jerky, repetitive movements, melodramatic reactions and monotonous phrases.
But NPC live streaming is different to a parody. Young women, in particular, have utilised this trend to their advantage. We want to find out why.
What is it?
NPC live streaming is where someone robotically repeats odd phrases on camera. This trend was first dominated by a TikToker known as Pinkydoll, whose account grew by 216,000 followers in just a few days following her mainstream media hit.
The phrases she repeats often coincide with digital gifts sent by her audience during a TikTok live stream – a form of control that appears to be a selling point for certain audiences (see sample here). An ‘ice cream cone’ gift, for instance, equates to the phrase “ice cream so good”. This bizarre, yet clearly illusive performance reportedly earns her $7,000 a day or more.
A keen internet user might argue that NPC live streaming is simply another category of ASMR. But is this correct?
ASMR – or autonomous sensory meridian response – is recognised as a tingling sensation often experienced when watching stimulating videos. This might include whispering, tapping or crinkling paper. ASMR is easily comparable to NPC live streaming; those robotic, repetitive phrases echo that of whispering into a microphone. But something sets NPC live streaming apart from ASMR – and it has struck unease among many bystanders.
It’s not a coincidence that most NPC live streamers are young women. Even though there might not be a glaring link between NPC live streams and cam-girl influencing, the undertones are most certainly there – identified by young women and exploited to their advantage.
Take, for example, Pinkydoll, who also uses an OnlyFans account as a second stream of income. Her NPC live streams, while not overtly sexual, nurture provocative connotations through an erotic gamer-girl aesthetic – clever advertising for her more sexually explicit content.
“Deep down, it’s all about control and how young people are getting addicted to having this kind of power over what someone does” – Reddit user.
“It’s crazy how technology has created kinks. This wouldn’t have existed before video games. Yet here we are.” – Reddit user.
This doesn’t mean that everyone who watches NPC live streams do so as a stepping-stone for sexually explicit content. Their odd nature brings out a natural curiosity in people, so it’s common to want to seek them out.
Crossing the line?
It’s important to question whether NPC live streams belong on a platform like TikTok – where under-18s comprise the highest percentage of users.
The TikTok community guidelines state:
“We strive to create a platform that feels welcoming and safe. We do not allow nudity, pornography, or sexually explicit content on our platform. We also prohibit content depicting or supporting non-consensual sexual acts, the sharing of non-consensual intimate imagery, and adult sexual solicitation.”
And here lies the problem. Because while NPC live streams may be sexually suggestive, they are in no way sexually explicit.
In December 2022, TikTok released a statement about strengthening enforcement of sexually suggestive content on For You feeds:
“To safeguard For You feeds, TikTok has policies around content categories that are not eligible for recommendation, including implied nudity, sensual content, and other content that is not suitable for all audiences over age 13.”
But why does this statement seem not to apply to live streaming? Due to the randomised nature of the TikTok Live function, it’s possible to be fed a variety of content that doesn’t necessarily match your interests. This means a minor could theoretically stumble across an NPC live stream. While watching the occasional one is unlikely to cause any harm, continued exposure may potentially have negative effects; although this type of content hasn’t been around long enough to know for sure.
TikTok needs to draw a very delicate line between creator freedom and the protection of minors. We will be waiting to see how they moderate NPC live streams (and similar) in the future.