If you watch a livestream video hosted by the TikTok creator PinkyDoll, it won’t be long before you hear her say, “Ice cream so good.”
She will say those words again and again, her tongue hanging out as she noisily pretends to lick a cone.
Every time she utters the catchphrase, she is getting paid. This is her job.
PinkyDoll, whose real name is Fedha Sinon, became a social media celebrity this month thanks to the eccentric livestreams in which she mimics video game characters.
In a typical performance, Ms. Sinon, who is 27 and lives in Montreal, stares into the camera lens while delivering a set of canned phrases. As she streams, viewers send her digital gifts in the form of cartoon items like roses, dinosaurs and ice cream cones. Each item translates to a cash payment for Ms. Sinon. The gifts float onto the screen and Ms. Sinon reacts to each one with the same cartoonish mannerisms.
Her reaction to the ice cream cones has become a meme, with many people posting images of President Biden with his favorite snack along with the words “Ice cream so good.”
Ms. Sinon speaks in a singsong voice that might be described as “sexy baby.” Sometimes she pops corn kernels one at a time using a hot-hair flat iron. The effect is mesmerizing, nestled deep within 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 comes preprogrammed and typically cannot be manipulated by the person at the controls. As such, an NPC’s phrases and movements are often formulaic and repetitive. Ms. Sinon brings these rather mechanical characters to life.
She found herself playing the internet’s main character when screen recordings of her streams went viral on Twitter last week. The producer and rapper Timbaland appears to be a fan, recently reposting a video to his personal TikTok account of Ms. Sinon breaking character during a livestream after noticing he was watching. Popcrave, a pop culture news account on Twitter, reported that Timbaland was ranked the top viewer of the PinkyDoll stream, based on gifts sent and time spent viewing. (A representative for Timbaland did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
What Ms. Sinon is doing is considered by some to be fetish content. For certain viewers, there’s something sexual about being able to control her every word and gesture by sending her this or that gift. For other viewers, she is just plain fascinating to watch.
Think of NPC streaming as an extension of cosplay — a hobby in which fans dress 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.
“Often people will consume media and then think about different ways to either dress up or act as or mimic affordances of that character,” Ms. Kocurek, 41, said. “I don’t think this is unprecedented or unrelated to ways that people have been engaging with media, especially games,” she added.
Ms. Sinon, who previously worked as a stripper and owned a cleaning business, said she started livestreaming on TikTok at the beginning of the year as a way to make money.
“I was just being 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, like, crazy money.”
While watching others play the video game “Grand Theft Auto,” she said she focused on some of the characters to get ideas for her TikTok work.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to try to do it like them,’” she said. Still, she added, she is “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 in to her livestreams.
It’s fun, she said, coming up with reactions for each gift. “I could sit here all day, but I can’t because I have a son and I got to eat,” she said.
Ms. Sinon said she made between $2,000 and $3,000 per stream. Across all her social media accounts, which include Instagram and OnlyFans, she puts that number at $7,000 per day.
Other creators cashing in on this digital genre include Cherry Crush, who lives in Ohio and has more than a million subscribers on YouTube, and Satoyu727, an NPC creator in Japan with over two million TikTok followers.
“It’s very stimulating, because it’s fast and very repetitive, so people sit and watch it to see the next reaction or if I will break character or mess up somehow from too many gifts,” Cherry Crush said in a direct-message interview for this article. (She would not give her real name, which she does not reveal online, saying, “I have a few stalkers.”)
Cherry Crush said she did not consider her livestreams to be fetish content. “I don’t make my show sexually suggestive at all,” she said. “I always thought it was just funny & entertaining.”
Ms. Kocurek, the media scholar, said that viewers may see online content in ways that the creators might not have considered.
“There’s something here about how people consume media and how things get decontextualized and sexualized, whether or not that’s what the creator intended,” she said. “It doesn’t mean nobody’s going to consume it in a sexualized way, but it may mean that that’s not what the creator was trying to do.”
Ms. Sinon, however, said she was unbothered by the variety of reactions.
“I don’t really care what people say about me,” she said. “If they want to think I am this or that, it’s fine with me.”
“At the end of the day,” she added, “I’m winning.”