If you’re watching a live stream video hosted by TikTok creator PinkyDoll, it won’t be long before you hear her say, “Ice cream so good.”
She will say those words over and over, her tongue hanging out as she noisily pretends to lick a cone.
She gets paid every time she says the catchphrase. This is her job.
PinkyDoll, whose real name is Fedha Sinon, became a social media celebrity this month thanks to the eccentric live streams where she mimics video game characters.
In a typical performance, Ms. Sinon, who is 27 and lives in Montreal, stares into the camera lens as she utters a series of canned sentences. As she streams, viewers send her digital gifts in the form of cartoon items like roses, dinosaurs, and ice cream cones. Each item translates into a cash payment for Ms. Sinon. The gifts float on the screen and Mrs. Sinon responds to each gift with the same cartoonish mannerisms.
Her reaction to the ice cream cones is become a memewith many people posting images of President Biden with his favorite snack along with the words “Ice cream so good.”
Mrs. Sinon speaks in a lilting voice that can be described as “sexy baby.” Sometimes she pops corn kernels one by one using a hot hair straightener. The effect is enchanting, nestled deep in the uncanny valley.
Ms. Sinon is what is known online as an NPC streamer. NPC stands for ‘non-player character’, a video game character that is pre-programmed and usually cannot be manipulated by the person at the controls. As such, an NPC’s phrases and movements are often formal and repetitive. Mrs. Sinon brings these rather mechanical characters to life.
She found herself playing the main character of the internet back then screenshots of her streams went viral on Twitter last week. The producer and rapper Timbaland seems to be a fan and recently reposted a video on his personal TikTok account of Ms. Sinon snapping a character during a live stream after he noticed he was watching. Popcrave, a pop culture news account on Twitter, reported that Timbaland was ranked as the top viewer of the PinkyDoll stream, based on gifts sent and time watched. (A Timbaland representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
What Ms. Sinon does is considered by some to be fetish content. For certain viewers, there is something sexual about being able to control her every word and gesture by sending her this or that gift. For other viewers, she’s just mesmerizing to watch.
Think of NPC streaming as an extension of cosplay — a hobby in which fans dress up as their favorite characters from books, television shows and movies — said Carly Kocurek, a professor of game design and experimental media at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
“A lot of times people consume the media and then think about different ways to dress up or act like that character or mimic that character’s traits,” says Ms Kocurek, 41. “I don’t think this is unprecedented or has nothing to do with the way people interact with media, especially games,” she added.
Ms Sinon, who previously worked as a stripper and ran a cleaning business, said she started live streaming on TikTok early this year as a way to make money.
“I was just cute,” she said in a phone interview. “I remember someone saying, ‘Oh my God, you look like an NPC. And then they start sending me crazy money.
Watching others play the “Grand Theft Auto” video game, she said she focused on some characters to get ideas for her TikTok work.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to try and do it like them,'” she said. Still, she added, she’s “not really sure” what an NPC is.
Her TikTok account has since grown to more than 400,000 followers. Tens of thousands of people regularly tune into her live streams.
It’s fun, she said, planning a response for each gift. “I could sit here all day, but I can’t because I have a son and I need to eat,” she said.
Ms. Sinon said she earned between $2,000 and $3,000 per stream. On all her social media accounts, including Instagram and OnlyFans, she estimates that number at $7,000 a day.
Other creators making money from this digital genre include Cherry Crush, who lives in Ohio and has over a million subscribers on YouTube, and Satoyu727, an NPC creator based in Japan with over two million TikTok followers.
“It’s very stimulating, because it’s fast-paced and very repetitive, so people sit and watch it to see the next reaction if I’m going to break character or somehow mess up too many gifts,” said Cherry Crush in a direct message interview for this article. (She wouldn’t give her real name, which she doesn’t reveal online, saying, “I’ve got a few stalkers.”)
Cherry Crush said she didn’t consider her live streams fetish content. “I don’t make my show sexually suggestive at all,” she said. “I always thought it was just funny and entertaining.”
Ms. Kocurek, the media scholar, said viewers can see online content in ways the creators might not have considered.
“There’s something here about how people consume media and how things are taken out of context and sexualized, whether that’s the creator’s intention or not,” she said. “It doesn’t mean no one is going to consume it in a sexualized way, but it could mean the creator wasn’t trying to.”
However, Ms Sinon said she was not bothered by the variety of responses.
“I don’t really care what people say about me,” she said. “If they want to think I’m this or that, that’s fine with me.”
“In the end I’m winning,” she added.