Discover the next Open Days Milano · Firenze · London · Paris · Dubai Register nowDiscover the next Open Days
Nov 15, 2023

TikTok NPCs: Cringe or genius?

One thing you can’t help but expect from TikTok is the crazy, absurd yet viral trends – so fascinating that all we want is to watch those videos for hours. And when we don’t scroll through them, we talkabout them with friends, colleagues and even our bosses. But now things are getting more bizarre than ever, as some TikTok influencers have started livestreaming as robots, reacting to viewers’ money tips as gifts with pre-written, nonsensical phrases and exaggerated, repetitive moves. Yes, it is as weird as it sounds.

What are we talking about? Scrolling through the platform, unexpectedly, you might run into something dubbed “NPC live streams”, streams where people act like non-playable video game characters. The bizarre trend has been spearheaded by content creators like Nicki and Loczek, the self-proclaimed ‘Dancing couple from Poland’, who began acting like non-playable characters in public, grabbing the attention of both viewers online and people around them. They act like glitchy video game characters and often make videos making fun of awkward situations such as first dates. Their videos are more elaborate and planned than the popular streams happening right now.


Let’s play a game: Help me! What should I do next? My NPC girlfriend doesn’t want to talk with me 😭

♬ original sound - Nicki i Loczek

But what exactly does NPC mean? NPC is an acronym for non-playable character and comes from the world of video games. Essentially, NPCs are characters in a game you can’t play, as you can only interact with them through pre-written dialogue to advance the plot. NPCs can be glitchy if a game is not very well developed – leading to the awkward encounters recreated and popularised by Nicki and Loczek.


It’s been a year since our 1st NPC date 🥹

♬ original sound - Nicki i Loczek

Another reason NPCs can seem strange is that game developers don’t tend to invest much in them (video games can be costly to produce), and spending a lot of money on characters most people don’t interact with is a bit useless. As a result, when you interact with them, NPC characters may have a monotone voice or poor voice acting in general since developers don’t want to spend too much money on professional voice actors. That is why creators, who often got their start as gamers or cosplayers, now play with the robotic nature of NPCs during their livestreams on TikTok.

@nerdywinter All love and support here this silly trend will be nothing but a memory in a few months @Kovey Coles @Tj Vasquez @Ashley Mindt ♬ original sound - Nerdywinter🐱😸

NPC streamers are taking advantage of this to gain millions of views – and make some money. There is no better example than @pinkydollreal, who constantly goes live and acts like an NPC character. Her streams are simple: she moves NPC-style (arms float, body movements are very basic and cartoonish) and replies to viewers who give her virtual gifts as emojis to eat and wear, such as ice cream, sunglasses or cowboy hats, with predetermined, weird phrases or movements. As anticipated, TikTok Live allows users to donate money to a streamer, and donations always appear on the screen as a ‘gift’, like the ice cream cone whose reaction made @pinkydollreal popular. In other words, the streamer essentially becomes a human jukebox and has a custom-made reply for whatever virtual item is sent to them on the live stream.

@pinkydollreal @FashionNova NPC Beginner lessons pt.1 🍿🤍 #viral #pinkydoll #fyp #ptp #pourtoipage #foryoupage #queennpc #npc #Pinkydoll #fashionnova #course #lesson #howto ♬ Paint The Town Red - Doja Cat

Why is this trend growing? The answer is simple. NPC streams are a relatively low-cost activity with a big profit for creators as NPC streamers stay live for hours, reacting to gifts that viewers give them and collecting money. These gifts come very cheaply for the fans, encouraging them to send them to their heroes. In turn, they will set up a quite long live stream, leading the viewer to send many diamonds, coins or virtual garments over time, hoping the streamer will react. Overall, NPC streams are, above all else, interactive, so the chance for your username to get a shoutout after you give a gift keeps you in the live for longer.

Another reason the trend is growing is that it is inherently cringy, and people online love to mock seemingly absurd trends. @pinkydollreal was only the beginning; many copycats surfaced after her, and they mostly became parodies of the NPC trend. People started streaming by pretending to be celebrity NPCs or imagining themselves acting as an NPC during their duties at work, mocking the robotic and repetitive actions of their jobs as much as the clichés. As their fame grew, some creators capitalised on their success by turning their pre-written phrases into hit songs.

The live streams also started going viral as creators ‘broke’ characters, often reacting to situations out of their control while live. These clips go viral, and people investigate the origin of the trend, so the creators get a boost in views and profit, and the trend continues. The memefication of something is a powerful tool that can take something from having a few thousand views to going absolutely viral. The NPC hits that perfect spot because it is cringeworthy but very, very shareable.

@giu7ianaflo2io @Sara e che santissima pazienza che hai! Tra l'altro senza di te nulla di tutto questo starebbe succedendo, ti amo amia 🫶 #npc #bts #tiktokitalia ♬ suono originale - giuliana florio

The world of TikTok NPCs has undeniably carved out a unique niche within the realm of social media trends. The strength of the NPC concept lies in its potential for memefication as it manages to strike the perfect balance between cringe-worthy content and shareability. TikTok NPCs are weird, no doubt about that, but they broke the Internet and are still making waves.

However, some are already questioning what to do with all this media exposure “Can you really get away from content, from that imagery that made you famous even for a second?” wondered author and content strategist Vincenzo Marino in his newsletter Zio. “Can you make people forget that for months, for hours, you were the one obsessively repeating something funny for money? What is the cost of success for the sole desire to achieve it quickly? And what exactly is success in 2023? To become somebody, or to become a meme?”



Constanza Coscia
Editorial team


Wait, don’t leave. For more explanations of what happens on TikTok critically, read here