“Ice cream so good.” If you’re familiar with that phrase, chances are you’re as chronically online as me, and prone to falling into the dark and winding rabbit holes of 3am TikTok. Or possibly you’ve just heard a lot of people talking about “NPC TikTok.”
But what exactly is NPC TikTok? Well, first, let’s talk about what an “NPC” is. My fellow gamers will be familiar with the term – it stands for “non-playable character” (or non-player character in some circles) and refers to the background characters in a game; the ones who often perform repetitive movements and phrases, and generally don’t have a storyline themselves.
As a main character, you can only interact with NPCs in limited ways. So where does TikTok fit in? Well, as you might have already guessed, there’s been a growing trend of people acting like NPCs on TikTok, particularly on live streams.
To be clear, people acting like NPCs on TikTok is not entirely new, but it’s definitely surged lately. This sudden uptake in interest is largely connected to TikToker @pinkydollreal, whose videos recently went viral and depict the creator repeating a string of seemingly nonsensical phrases including the aforementioned and now infamous “ice cream so good.”
These phrases are scripted lines and specific reactions to purchased “gifts” from the fans. TikTok allows viewers to donate money to creators during streams, and the gift appears on the screen as emojis. These gifts can cost a fan anywhere from half a cent to a few dollars – which doesn’t sound like much until you have 965.4k followers like Pinkydoll and then, as she’s told The Guardian, you can bank more than $7,000 in a full day of streaming.
But as it so happens with virtually any time a woman performs on screen, the question immediately has risen across the Internet: Is this a sort of kink or fetish thing? The answer is complicated.
Pinkydoll’s repetitive phrases and NPC creator Cherry Crush’s candy-coloured livestreams are punctuated with big beaming smiles, none of which seem overtly sexual. Indeed, there is almost a ridiculous and comical element to a lot of NPC content. It’s worth examining why our knee-jerk reaction to a woman acting on screen is to wonder whether her performance is for the sexual gratification of others.
However, that being said, other NPC creators play directly into the fantasy of “dating an NPC”, such as Nicki i Loczek, who performs the role for short videos with a comedy edge, enacting repetitive, jerky movements with a vacant stare.
And of course, there is the undeniable fact that the NPC creators that become most popular are typically female and very attractive. A coincidence? Probably not.
But regardless of whether there is a fetish element to the performance, the same attitude that we display towards OnlyFans creators applies here – their body, their rules, and if they’re making bank in this weirdly niche section of the Internet, then you fucking slay, queen.
The reactions to NPC TikTok have varied from the amused to the confused, and I would put myself somewhere squarely in the middle. With all the talk of AI replacing humans, sometimes things like this send me into an existential crisis, wondering at the increasingly blurred lines between human and AI. Do we really want human connection or are we so burnt out on the unpredictability of other people that we crave a person on a screen that we can send a gift to who will give us the same answer, day and night, regardless of anything else?
Who knows. The only things I know for certain are that the Internet never fails to surprise, and 3am TikTok is never going to lead anywhere but the vaguely unsettling.