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NPC Tiktok.jpg

Ice Cream So Good: What Are NPC TikTokers and Why Are They So Hypnotic?

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Social Media | July 19, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Social Media | July 19, 2023 |

NPC Tiktok.jpg

The simulation hypothesis is a philosophical theory that all of existence is part of a simulated reality. Rooted in centuries of ideas, this notion, defined by Nick Bostrom, posits that many works of science fiction forecast computing powers beyond human capacity. If such things were to exist, he argues, “we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones.” The argument also says that we would have no way of truly knowing that we live in a simulation because we lack the technological capacity to understand it. Watching NPC live-streams on TikTok makes me wonder if there’s a glitch in that system.

The past few days of social media have been swarmed with baffling yet curiously intriguing live-streams of TikTok users roleplaying as non-playable characters in video games (shortened to NPCs.) These videos, typically featuring gorgeous women, are repetitive, uncanny, and weirdly watchable, even as they fry your brain. One user, under the name Pinkydoll, has gone viral for her NPC videos thanks to her robotic recreations and choice to use hair straighteners as a way to cook popcorn kernels. She has long blonde hair and empty eyes that only add to the NPC effect. When she speaks, it’s a stream of repeated phrases, sounds, and clicks. It takes you a moment to realize she is reacting to the emojis appearing on-screen. When a viewer gifts her with, say, an ice-cream, she responds with ‘ice cream so good’ and a slurping noise. Her head bobs in the way a video game character programmed to do four actions in the background would. It goes on and on and on…

It’s all, to put it bluntly, weird as hell. Of course it is. This is the internet. This is the information super-highway where people sell their farts in jars, spend six-figures on jpegs of ugly apes, and get furious that the green M&M isn’t sexy anymore. Frankly, I’m surprised something like this didn’t come along much sooner. Rule 34 is a thing for a reason, after all. Yet the NPC trend has elicited a lot of very strong emotions despite seeming reasonably simple, if eerie and confusing.

Many people on Twitter find the NPC roleplaying dehumanizing, seeing it as yet another way that men can control women for their own pleasure. To them, it’s the climax of a patriarchal ideal, to have women be so malleable and passive that they can be packaged into types with little to say beyond a stock cycle of cutesy reactions. I understand this concern, although I think a lot of this stuff is also just a case of ‘your kink is not mine.’ TikTokers like Pinkydoll seem to be making bank from this trend, as her viewers have to pay to send the stickers she responds to. Given how many stickers she receives per-stream, it seems evident that she’s more than comfortable with the earnings. Plenty of people are trying to follow in her footsteps, with mixed results. She makes it look far easier than it is, and she’s a sex worker who knows how to best appeal to her audience (and a hell of a lot of the comments on her videos reek of shaming and anti-sex work mentalities. Sex work is work, kids!)

Much of the internet’s wider fascination with ‘satisfying’ things feels rooted in the NPC trend. Pinkydoll is repetitive to the point of soothing, and it’s admittedly fascinating to watch her make popcorn one kernel at a time with hair straighteners. It reminds me of the endless loops I see on Instagram of people chopping soap or obsessively organizing their fridges. There’s an audience for everything, regardless of how niche it might be or how obscure its intentions are. A lot of the time, we’re just looking for background noise, ASMR fodder, or something that helps ease our brains into a calmer state (I love videos of people getting weird beauty treatments, women who go camping with their cute dogs, and organizers who have way too many Amazon affiliate links in their bios, I must admit.) I know a lot of neurodivergent people who find the simplicity and repetition of such fads to be appealing too, and somewhat relatable.

‘NPC’ was a beloved insult of the moment for many alt-right losers. It was lobbed at anyone with a vaguely progressive opinion, a childish retort that insisted everyone else was a mindless automaton repeating the same ideas from a shared list. ‘Woke culture’ had reduced us all to a cycle of buzzwords, apparently. Never mind the irony of this accusation being screeched out by a group of misogynists obsessed with the same jokes and Reddit-prepared harassment tools. Consistency was never their strong suit. This current NPC trend doesn’t seem to have much to do with the right-wing trolling, but perhaps that vague connection is what makes so many feel unnerved by the trend. It’s about control and giving it over to someone else.

As AI has become ever more dominant and the cost of living crisis all-consuming, a lot of us are rethinking our attitudes towards work. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t worked a super-dehumanizing job at least once in their lives. We’ve all been saddled with a cruel boss or unmanageable hours for little money, or been maligned for doing ‘mindless’ tasks. So much of the anti-union rhetoric that has swamped every aspect of employment is rooted in dismissing what a worker does as ‘low-skill’ and therefore unworthy of proper compensation. It’s no wonder so many CEOs are pro-AI and are already replacing humans with unreliable bots for a fraction of the cost. If you can’t beat down your employees so much that they practically become robots then why not cut out the middleman and bring in the real thing?

I think that’s one reason the NPC trend can’t help but feel so fascinating to me. It’s the inevitable conclusion of a capitalistic culture that never saw us as human to begin with. Why not cash in on this irony? Why not live out that hellish fantasy on your own terms, and make some popcorn while you’re at it? It certainly seems preferable to a job where your rights are denied and wages are stagnating. If there is a free market for such things then exploit it for all it’s worth. This trend will quieten down soon and be replaced by something far weirder yet strangely sensical. There will always be new and strange ways for people to make money because the system demands it. Yum yum slurp.