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Why TikTokers Can't Stop Using The Term “NPC”

Beware: It's probably not a compliment.

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TikTok has a reputation for connecting people to trends, phrases, and crazes they would’ve never known about otherwise. A recent example that comes to mind are BORGs, but these days it seems like you can’t scroll through your FYP without coming across a new slang term like “rizz” that makes you feel so out of the loop (and kinda old, too). Well, get ready to add another word to your TikTok dictionary. Users on the platform are calling out people with no main character energy for being “NPCs,” so you might want to know what the term means in case you get labeled as one, too.

Though you may have been introduced to the term through TikTok, it didn’t actually originate on the app the way “cheugy” did. If you haven’t picked up a game console since the days of the Nintendo Wii, the word probably doesn’t mean much to you. But if you’re a gamer, you’ve definitely come across some NPCs in your lifetime. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “NPC” is an acronym that stands for “non-playable character” and is often used to describe characters in video games that are “not controlled by someone playing the game.” In other words, NPCs are those random side characters you might meet on a quest that don’t really add much substance to the game’s plot.

As TikToker @masonkuhr explains, the most commentary these characters have to offer revolves around the weather. “It’s almost like they aren’t consciously even there,” says the creator. “They’re just kind of running on a script.”

TikTok user @kingmaegon breaks down the common characteristics found in NPCs, claiming that the side characters possess a “lack of critical thinking,” as well as cognitive dissonance, a lack of empathy, and a “lack of passion and intrigue for higher concepts.”

OK, so now you know what the acronym stands for, but that doesn’t explain why are people calling each other NPCs on TikTok. NPCs tend to exhibit odd and unexpected behaviors, like standing in the same place all the time or taking too long to respond to a question. The people being labeled as NPCs are those random people you encounter day to day that exhibit similar unusual behaviors that almost feel uncanny. Some people even go so far as to attribute these NPC interactions to a glitch in the “simulation,” but whether or not that’s true is for you to decide.

According to this video from TikToker @sambucha, there’s a quiz you can take to find out whether or not you’re an NPC. Per the creator, you’re likely a non-playable character if you answer “yes” to most of the following questions:

  1. Do you only give one-word answers?
  2. Do you hate your job/school?
  3. Do you always eat the same food?
  4. Do you usually discuss the weather?
  5. Do you wear the same clothes every day?
  6. Do you rely on others to make plans?
  7. Do you only speak when spoken to?

The best way to sum up what it means to be an NPC is that it usually means you have no main character energy. So whenever someone gets called an NPC, it’s likely not meant as a compliment. Because the term can be used as an insult, the best NPC content on TikTok comes from creators who pretend to be video game characters IRL.

NPC Livestreamers

Though some people might take offense to being called an NPC, others welcome it. These people call themselves NPC streamers, and they’re taking TikTok Live by storm.

The fascination with NPC livestreamers began after user @pinkydollreal went viral for her TikTok Lives in July 2023 in which she uncannily embodies the verbal and physical mannerisms that non-playable characters typically exhibit. Because NPCs usually only speak when interacted with, the creator plays the role by engaging with her viewers in real-time based on the gifts she receives from the audience, aka the little animated icons that appear on TikTok Lives. Depending on what she receives, she’ll recite a phrase associated with the item in an almost robotic tone of voice, as if she were a video game character herself. If someone sends her an ice cream cone, the streamer will utter the words “mmm, ice cream, so good” in the same tone of voice every time before pretending to lick an invisible cone. Other well-known PinkyDoll-isms include “yeehaw, yes, you got me feeling like a cowgirl, let me ride it!” which she says after receiving a cowboy hat, and “gang gang, gang gang,” which you can expect her to say after sending a double G symbol.

Since the rise of PinkyDoll, many TikTokers have tried their hand at NPC streaming, but not without adding their own twist. User @slayrizz, for example, accepts roses and hot dogs dressed as Barbie, while @cherrycrush_tv does their best NPC impression in cosplay makeup. Some users even recruit their friends to join in. It’s no wonder why the trend has gotten so popular — because gifts on TikTok have real monetary value, these creators are all making money off of their Lives simply for acting as if they just witnessed you steal a car in Grand Theft Auto.

Now that the term is all over TikTok, you no longer have to be a gamer to know what NPC means. Though these TikTokers make acting like an NPC seem fun, however, be careful not to throw the term around when referring to other people. Creator @sydneyserena points out that you never know what others are going through, so labeling people as not “functional enough or human enough” can be incredibly degrading, insensitive, and offensive — so think twice before you use words (or viral acronyms) IRL.

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