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Live on TikTok, for hours on end, Pinkydoll stares at the camera, repeating strange phrases in a hushed, robotic voice. She holds in one hand an iron compressing a grain of popcorn, and with the other, she makes gestures, also repetitive, like pretending to pop balloons with her long fingernails or spinning an imaginary lasso.

Welcome to the world of Pinkydoll, which since the beginning of the month has been causing a stir on the TikTok social network. Pinkydoll – real name Fedha Sinon – is 27 years old and lives in Montreal. She sits in front of her camera and reacts to the digital “gifts” users send her that scroll across the screen in the form of stickers: a rose, a galaxy, a wreath of flowers. At each icon, she pronounces a sentence, in the same tone, with the same gesture, like a doll.

And some of her followers include American rapper Timbaland (who sends her fancy stickers) and even Elon Musk, who, according to his Instagram post, was listening to Pinkydoll live during the Oppenheimer movie screening. .

To The New York Times, Fedha Sinon claimed to pocket $2,000 to $3,000 per session. His platforms – TikTok and OnlyFans – reportedly earn him up to $7,000 a day. It’s a dramatic pay rise for the mom, who turned to TikTok earlier this year after losing her housekeeping business. Pinkydoll did not respond to our interview requests.

Pinkydoll is the icon of the hour for NPC live streaming, trending on TikTok. NPC is the acronym for “non-player character”, or non-playable character in French. It’s about those video game characters that you can’t control and that are usually scripted. “If I talk to the character, he will answer me with phrases predetermined by the game’s authors,” explains Bio Jade Adam Granger, vice president of the editorial team at Ubisoft.

Back when AI was more basic, NPCs had a very robotic and repetitive attitude and dialogue, notes Bio Jade Adam Granger. “You can think of a character who oscillates from right to left all the time or who says the same thing when I give him a piece of cheese,” she illustrates. The movement is exaggerated to be visible through the graphics.

Although she creates her own moves, Pinkydoll isn’t the only NPC streamer (several instavideasts are trying their luck right now!) or even the first. The trend is instead attributed to a Japanese content creator, Natuecoco, who has been impersonating a manga-inspired doll on social media for several years.

She started doing live sessions as early as 2021, reacting to the icons her followers send her. To Insider magazine, Natuecoco (who does not disclose her real name) explained that she created movements to build a “bridge of communication” between her and the public.

This “communication bridge” remains lucrative, both for the few tiktokers like Pinkydoll who manage to get out of the game and for the platform itself. In fact, notes Emmanuelle Parent, CEO and co-founder of the Center for Online Emotional Intelligence, the concept is “glued” to TikTok’s monetization principle.

TikTok was inspired by the Twitch platform to create a currency (the stickers) that its users buy to give to their favorite content creators. Smaller gifts (like the rose and ice cream cone) cost 2 cents, while larger ones can be worth up to $800. And TikTok pockets about half of these sums, underlines Emmanuelle Parent. “The content creator on TikTok accumulates these gifts and he can convert them into diamonds to withdraw money,” she explains. As Pinkydoll handles the concept very well, “she’s probably going to be recommended a lot by the algorithms”, notes Emmanuelle Parent.

At the other end of the spectrum, American singer Selena Gomez has already been surprised to see these gifts scrolling on the screen, asking her fans to stop paying for them.

One can understand why Pinkydoll indulges in these remote-controlled choreographies, but one question remains: why do people watch these videos?

TikTok creator Christina Labelle admits to watching videos of Asian NPC streamers last winter when they popped up on her TikTok feed. She was especially “intrigued” by the gestures, which are reminiscent of a robot.

“On reflection, I think there’s something very ASMR about it,” she says. ASRM (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) is that pleasant feeling that can be triggered by relaxation videos on the internet. “It’s in the contemplative, in the repetitive. You put your brain off a bit, ”underlines Christina Labelle.

Perhaps, too, that Internet users are waiting for the moments when the tiktokeurs drop out of their character, she suggests. On TikTok, users have reposted extracts where Pinkydoll calls out to her son to stop disturbing the dog or to go to bed.

Journalists who have covered the phenomenon – Forbes, New York Times, Rolling Stone – have spoken of the sexual, even “fetishistic” side of the Pinkydoll videos. In the eyes of sexologist Laurence Desjardins, Pinkydoll combines three aspects that are not insignificant: her youthful side (“she seems to use a filter that makes her very polite, very digital”), her sexy side (“she sticks out her tongue and her tits bouncing”), and you can make it do whatever you want. “Timbaland sends him lots of money through icons, but makes him do whatever he wants. It’s a controlling mind, a controlling mind,” she said.

According to Laurence Desjardins, there may be reason to question disguised sexualized sources in social networks. “Timbaland can watch this, but a 13-year-old can also watch this without his parents realizing that there is something sexual in it”, illustrates Laurence Desjardins, who also sees something in this trend. ‘”a little mind-numbing”.

Christina Labelle, for her part, sees nothing particularly sexual in Pinkydoll’s gestures. “I think all women on the internet are sexualized no matter what they do,” she concludes.