“I can talk a hole in the side of somebody’s head,” Katie Robinson laughs. And it’s true. What was supposed to be an hour-long conversation with the Twitch streamer extends well into two-and-a-half hours, but I don’t mind. Because when Robinson speaks, she has real things to say.
In our recent video call, the 27-year-old gamer, better known as PikaChulita, chatters away in a silky, steady tone. In one breath, she goes from dreaming about travelling without Covid restrictions to an island destination for her still-to-be-planned honeymoon to orating the importance of avoiding coloniser behaviour. “When you go to places [like Hawaii] and they're literally telling you, ‘Hey, don't come here,’ and you just ignore that, it's very insensitive to the native population or to the locals. I’m trying to be mindful of that so I’m waiting.”
To sum Robinson up in 160 characters or less, just turn to her Twitter bio: “She/Her. Bi/Pan Femme. Gaming, Anime, & Curly Hair. USM History Alum. Twitch + Logitech G Partner. Womanist. Hoochie.” “I carry these titles with me on social media almost as a warning so that people kind of know what to expect,” she says. “I have to tell people, ‘Hey this is part of me. You’re not separating this. Whatever you think may fly over here won’t.’”
To really get a sense of who she is though, look at her feed. Her tweets and retweets are both blunt and fearless, and they might not be for everyone. Robinson is okay with that. “You’re not going to tickle some people’s fancy being outspoken or tweeting things like I do when I say, ‘White male gamers were a mistake,’” she says. But her messages on behalf of marginalised communities — whether celebrating Black voices, protesting against ableism, or advocating for women’s, queer, and Indigenous rights — will catch your attention and for good cause.
In a world where the loudest moments of advocacy usually happen in the grimmest of times, Robinson holds a constant light to her path, walking the talk every day. “I like to think that my kind of presence acts as a way to kind of show people like, ‘Hey, you can be outspoken. You can have a backbone and stand for something and still be successful.’”
Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, the “Nintendo girl” recalls being enthralled by her first consoles, a GameBoy Color and Nintendo 64, and how her family funded her love for gaming by purchasing titles from the now defunct Circuit City if she and her siblings brought home good grades. Like so many ‘90s kids, she has fond memories of going to Blockbuster and Hollywood Video on the weekends to rent popular and niche games.
But Robinson’s online footprint actually began in Lady Gaga fandoms. In the early years of Twitter and Tumblr, Robinson went by chula_monster, posting memes of the popstar, as well as anime, inspirational quotes, and animals. In 2012, she remade her screen name to PikaChulita — a portmanteau of the electric Pokémon Pikachu and “chulita,” the affectionate take of “beautiful” in Spanish. It stuck. “I love the way people say [PikaChulita] because people say it with so much more energy than how I say it,” Robinson laughs.
Her foray on Twitch began two years later. Talking-while-playing was tricky at first, but the extrovert in her quickly found her groove not just narrating her gameplay, but speaking on the importance of representation and inclusivity in the gaming and creator space. It wasn’t long before she made a name for herself as someone whose content had a mission.
In December, she partnered with EA to raise money for Latinx in Gaming, which aims to increase representation for Latinx gamers. That same month, she also committed to donate stream revenue toward the memorial of a fellow streamer who recently died. “I'm one of those people that if I see something that is a good cause and is supporting marginalised communities, I'm pretty much always gonna be willing to raise money for it,” she says.
Robinson comes from a long line of activism and advocacy — her uncle was civil rights activist and United League founder Alfred “Skip” Robinson — and she has her mother’s personality, she says, including the need to advocate for those who can’t or feel unable to speak for themselves. “We were raised in a way that it was like, different is normal,” Robinson says. “Different is not as different as you may think.” As a child, she wanted to help animals and save the environment. As she got older, she took a greater interest in people, particularly those in underrepresented communities.
Robinson is used to questions about the lack of diversity within gaming companies and at the top of the streamerboards, and what more needs to be done to foster an environment of inclusivity. It can be frustrating to still be having the conversation, but she takes it in stride. “At this point, it’s not really a point of pain for me to talk about it,” she says. “I’ve talked about it so much that I’ve almost talked myself into numbness.”
Twitch's core audience has become more diverse in recent years, with men making up 65% of its users in 2019, according to Statista. But last October’s data leak, which was confirmed by Twitch, showed the top earners on the platform continue to be dominated by white men. The top woman earner, Pokimane, came in at number 39.
I don't want to see you, especially other Black women, as my competition. You are my equal. You come along with me.
The fact that the top streamers are mostly white men isn’t surprising to Robinson. The breakdown of Twitch’s core demographic is “really just a greater reflection of the society at large outside of gaming,” she says. “I mean, we see who sits at the top of society in general. It's that and also subconscious bias and subconscious racism. When most people think about gaming, they have one image in mind, and it’s probably some white guy.”
As in the real world, it's natural to gravitate to people who share similar interests and tastes as you on Twitch. And if you are someone from a marginalised community, it makes sense to want to watch someone who looks like you, but the reverse is a different story, Robinson says. “If somebody white says, ‘I have this apprehension going to a space where there’s Black people,’ that ends up being rooted in something more sinister. And that’s when you have to take a look at yourself and ask yourself why do you feel that way?”
As a member of Black Girl Gamers and the Noir Network, both of which work to elevate the voices of Black women and develop their brands, Robinson is a staple in the Black Twitch community. Being so prominent cuts both ways. For marginalised folks, visibility is often cited as a form of success, but when the same people are always propped up, it feeds the myth that there are few to begin with. Robinson is hyper-aware of this fact so after years of being featured on Twitch’s front page, notably during certain commemorative months, she now says she asks the spotlight be passed to someone else.
“If I'm just at the top by myself, and I'm the only other Black person up there, it's not gonna feel fulfilling. It's not gonna feel rewarding,” she says. “I don't want to see you, especially other Black women, as my competition. You are my equal. You come along with me.” (She shouts out streamers like DaGeeCheeGamer, LexualPlays, MissSith, and ValkyrieVice as ones on her watchlist.) For Robinson, an end goal would be to see the top streamers on the front pages of Twitch or YouTube be “Black folks, folks who are queer, trans, Brown, disabled, and not be outnumbered by cisgender white people, specifically white men — and not just during a specific Black History Month or Women's History Month. At any time of the year.”
You might assume that it can be exhausting for Robinson to take on the issues of everyone around her as her own, but that sense of justice is ingrained in her blood. “If I were to die tomorrow, if I knew that I made some kind of impact on the world, or I made a certain marginalised demographic’s life easier, or made them feel like that they weren't alone at this and somebody was fighting for them, then I would be happy. And that's kind of what I want to leave when I leave this Earth.”
Until then, she’ll keep talking.