The viral TikTok streamer makes thousands of dollars per day by uncannily imitating non-player characters from video games, sparking disgust, intrigue, and confusion from viewers who simply can’t look away.
For six hours a day, Fedha Sinon fires up TikTok and launches a live-stream video where she repeats eccentric catchphrases like “ice cream so good” and “yes yes yes” in a mechanical yet singsongy voice. Sinon, better known as Pinkydoll, repeats these phrases with little to no variation, though sometimes sticks out her tongue to noisily imitate licking a cone or growling like a dinosaur. It may sound bizarre—almost uncanny—but Sinon’s job is to mimic non-player characters (NPCs) in video games. Whenever she repeats a phrase, she gets paid by viewers who send her gifts in the form of digital items like dinosaurs or ice cream, which can be redeemed on TikTok for actual cash.
Sinon, a former stripper who previously owned a cleaning business in Montreal, has become an overnight TikTok celebrity due to the mesmerizing nature of her videos. Most viewers can’t place what makes Pinkydoll entertaining, yet were transfixed by her content as somewhat of a virtual, gamified extension of cosplay. The increased visibility has translated to high payouts. After she went viral, Pinkydoll started making $7,000 per day, spawned a wave of middling imitators eager to capitalize on the trend, and counts Timbaland as one of her most loyal viewers. (He even mixed her voice on a new track.)
In video games, NPCs are pre-programmed—often with repetitive phrases and movements—and can’t be manipulated by players, but bringing them to life can perhaps arouse something sexual in viewers. Reaction streams have been around for decades, though, likely originating with sex workers who were finding left-field uses for technology in the late ‘90s. Reaction streams have also defined Asian social media culture for years. Glued to the screen? Look toward the same science that makes social media so addicting: dopamine-triggering rewards (likes, comments) that keep us transfixed. Seeing an NPC repeat “ice cream so good” three times in a row simply hits different.
“The genre freaks people out because it taps into already-existing anxieties about AI coming for our humanity,” Samantha Cole writes for Vice. “Pinkydoll doesn’t say ‘I’m cosplaying as an NPC.’ But the way her streams seem to make people feel—like retirees sitting at the slots—is a little too slick for some viewers’ comfort.” Not that she cares.