I remember it took me three hours to learn Step 4 of How to Solve a Rubix Cube from a 12-minute YouTube clip that was cached for life.
Streaming was in its infancy, and Annoying Orange was the funniest diversion of my yet-to-be-refined 10-year-old hobby. Remember?
(My 20-year-old colleague Claudia, who sat next to me, did not.)
Now, here I am, 25 years old and trying to understand the absurdity of the latest fad taking over the world:
Two weeks ago, I was confused trying to decipher this term. “Vlogger-YouTuber?”, I stuttered. No, my fellow virtual YouTubers corrected.
These entertainers use animated avatars in their videos, rather than their physical images. Like most vloggers, they chat in front of the camera and share their thoughts on a variety of topics, from game streams to reaction videos and product reviews.
Characters are created with computer graphics, often controlled anonymously using motion capture and other VR and AR technologies.
Vtubers apply visuals to match their character’s backstory, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll see one claiming to be a dragon and another claiming to be Satan.
In 2016, the Japanese-developed Kizuna AI debuted on YouTube and coined the term Vtuber. Within 10 months, she had accumulated more than two million subscribers.
It paved the way for what has since grown in popularity with over 10,000 Vtubers globally, garnering more than 1.5 billion views per month by the end of 2020.
Top content creators even make millions of dollars for what they do. Take for example Vtuber Kiryu Coco, who earns up to US$134,000 per month.
Even in Malaysia, we have our own Vtuber agency in the form of Projek Hikayat and MyHolo TV, apparently intending to work with advertising and event agencies to increase traffic and engagement.
Vtubers are inherently not bad. In fact, many of them are extremely skilled with a natural talent that can captivate audiences.
They can sing, play musical instruments, and being high-achieving gamers really makes them famous for a reason. But, I don’t get the call on a personal level.
Are they trying to sound like a mouse?
What I cannot accept about Vtubers is that many of them are likened to anime-style avatars with big eyes, small mouths, vibrant hair colors, and not to mention big bosses…
Don’t forget her high-pitched voice, it makes me want to rip out my ears. That’s the main reason I avoid watching anime in the first place.
These Waifu-like character traits have been deemed “cute” or “sexy” by many online. To each of them I guess, but it makes me uncomfortable, and I can’t help but feel disgusted by the content. (Plus, they scream a lot for some reason. Why?)
Of course, there are more digestible Vtubes out there. Mostly people who actually use their own human voices.
Along with my quest to research and use Vtuber content, I realized that I’ve actually been following and enjoying videos from one of them for a while.
Described as a pyramid against pyramid schemes, this Vtuber resembles an Illuminati icon and discusses how bad businesses die, among other things.
It shows that there’s something out there for everyone on the internet and you can’t just throw a blanket statement at Vtubers.
Anything can be a Vtuber, a gun, a lamp, damn it, one could argue that Annoying Orange is the social OG virtual Youtuber.
why are they doing this?
Finally, Vtubers are content creators who present themselves on the internet with avatars with the help of motion capture technology and voice-to-text software (sometimes).
They can hide behind another character for various reasons, but the bigger thing that most Vtubers cite is the security and privacy that this form of vlog facilitates.
Vtubing is a unique creative outlet that these individuals may not be exposed to because of anxiety, disability or other reasons.
One Vtuber even talked about her personal health condition due to a compromised immune system. Her illness has led to a point where human interaction is limited, and she is lonely while trapped in isolation.
“Since I started using Vtubing, it has given meaning to my life again and for the first time I feel like a human.” Ironmouse in an interview with Anthony Padilla. “I feel like I’ve finally allowed myself to be happy and excited about life because it’s really hard.”
For the audience, they are presented with a form of escapism, and looking at the current world situation, it is not uncommon for people to be attracted to these characters.
Vtubing itself provides a tremendous amount of control, freedom and income to creators and allows them to produce content however they want (as long as the content is within their agency’s regulations, for those who are members of a group).
The fact that they have a potential creator following that will be envied is indicative of their success in attracting their own fan base.
So maybe, just maybe, I need to be the one to embrace this form of content delivery and keep up with the times. But god, I’m still terrified.
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Featured image credits: Kizuna AI / Zentreya / Ironmouse / kuzuha blood pack / Inugami Korone