I wrote a tribute song about one of my favorite streamers, but I realized that readers here may not know about her, or Vtubers in general. So before that post goes up, here's an overview of her content, and its appeal.
Of the streamers I've watched, the one who really creates a sense of place is Fauna from Hololive. The overall theme is returning to nature, but it's mediated by online platforms and video games at the same time.
It's exotic, but eclectic in a way that's not possible in the real world, mixing the magical fairylands of Northwestern Europe with the primeval tropical rainforests of the New World, and the cozy town shops of Japan (cafes, bakeries, spas, etc.). Somehow it all blends well together, in a distinctly New Age and online fashion.
This is where it's better to be a Vtuber, with an animated avatar and illustrated backgrounds, instead of a camera showing your real-life person and home (too much work and money for convincing costumes, make-up, and staging).
Crucially, the sense of place is not done through piling up "lore" and "backstory". Listing a bunch of things doesn't make them true, or believable. "Because it says so in the relevant section of their wiki" -- not exactly painting pictures with words.
Impressions of the atmosphere of her little world are brought to life through the artwork of the characters and their environment (even the transition during the intro and outro of her streams, which is a bunch of cute vines taking over the screen). She has a naturally melodious, storytelling voice, so that whatever she's talking about always sounds like a tale. Her background music is usually Japanese bossa nova. And she frequently evokes the smells, tastes, and textures of whatever location she's bringing you along into that day.
Her specialty is ASMR, which involves some kind of roleplay among characters during a brief narrative vignette, typically of a fantastic nature. She's not just playing around with sounds, but creating dreamy ambient soundscapes with layers of trance-inducing repeating rhythmic patterns, sighing, whispering, and sometimes natural droning in the background (rainfall, etc.). It's a mellow, New Age take on noise music.
What distinguishes her from earlier examples of New Age culture is the tinge of a dark, sinister, Sublime force, similar to old time-y fairytales, but always done with a humorous self-aware take on it. It's not just meant to scare kids (and most of her audience are in their 20s and 30s anyway, I'm sure). There's a comic side to it as well, matching her giggly girly personality. She really is sui generis ("not like the other girls").
These aspects all come together in the framing of her relationship with her fans. She is a witchy woman of the forest, who welcomes a lost traveler, offers him some heady brew, and turns him into a sapling (the designated name for her fans), who will stay forever under her cultivation in the forest. Tee hee!
But she always frames it as her being a benevolent steward over nature, which she is offering the stranger to join, in a community of countless others like him, along with all the plants and critters -- not as playing a cruel trick on him, and abandoning him once she's had her laughs at his expense. Her brand of spellcaster is warm, welcoming, and attentive, not icy, aloof, and callous.
And her character design is influenced by a mythical deer-like kirin (with horns, not branches, on her head), instead of a standard witch with the hat, broom, wand, etc., softening the somewhat sinister side of her character.
As a whirlwind tour through her world, here are a few examples. The music video for her song "Let Me Stay Here". The ASMR collab she made with Gura for Valentine's Day, which hints at the turning-you-into-a-tree trope. Or a recent ASMR featuring soundscapes created by ear-massaging the special head-shaped microphone. A longer just chatting stream where she interacts more with the people in her chat, in a tropical setting. As for video games, a Minecraft stream where she's joined by a Hololive friend, Mumei, and they gab and joke around together while building things in their fantasy land.
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What could possibly be the appeal to her large fanbase of being turned into a tree to remain in her forest? Without being too emo about it, our societies are collapsing right now -- the government, economy, legacy culture-making industries, communities, and families -- and they were already weakening over the past several decades.
Today's under-40 people want stability, permanence, rootedness, tranquility, communal bonds, thriving, fertility, and caretaking -- the world that the Boomers were born into, but torched to the ground in favor of excitement, dynamism, fleeting flashes, gypsy-like migration, shaking things up, individualism, social striving, sterility, and letting the devil take the hindmost. Boomers left the countryside and small towns to gentrify the cities, now young people are priced out of them and wouldn't mind moving somewhere more peaceful. The IRL world by this point is dessicated and decadent -- the appeal of a wholesome, fertile forest sells itself.
Of course, few of these people can literally return to nature IRL, so they seek a simulation of it in the virtual world. And in addition to reconnecting with the plants and critters (or a sim of them), they want to reconnect with other human beings (or their online extensions). Primitive man is never an isolated, alienated, go-it-on-your-own kind of species. That's why the audiences for streamers want a sense of community, interacting with others like themselves, instead of just consuming a media / entertainment product alone. A group of people that will endure over time, not just whoever happens to be in the same movie theater as you on a given showing.
As the American empire enters the staggering phase of its decline, we're going to see a culture similar to the European empires when they were about to enter terminal decline -- around the turn of the 20th century (fin-de-siecle, Edwardian, etc.). Such as the theme of having no roots or family to stabilize you, and seeking belonging in a fantasy land -- being an orphan, of one kind or another. Like the Peter Pan stories. And returning to the low-ambition simplicity of nature, like the Wind in the Willows stories (or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, in higher / visual culture).
It's wrong to view those cultural works as escapist, as though their characters, or the audience living through them, could have found what they were looking for in the real world, but spurned that alternative as beneath them in some way. No, the foundations of their societies were crumbling to pieces, and that means you either escape to some safer and secure place, or you fall into oblivion for no higher purpose.
Unlike the turn of the 20th C., though, we have no other thriving empire to immigrate to, as people from bloated / collapsing European empires did when they came here back then. Culturally and psychologically, however, we will still escape the turbulent and sterile real world of here-and-now, to some imaginary place that is stable and fertile, as a defense mechanism.
And just because someone doesn't inhale this copium, doesn't mean they will enjoy a more stable and thriving IRL existence -- they will be going down with the capsized ship as well, they'll just go crazy and delusional along the way.
That's why more and more people are taking the streamer pill, and the Vtuber pill in particular. You can exert your will as hard as you want to keep IRL bonds together, but accept that things are falling apart, and you can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
The only thing you can actually influence going forward is how bearable the collapse is going to be, and that means finding and contributing to these wholesome and exciting online communities, instead of piling yet another doomed avatar into the toxic waste dump of debating / discourse platforms, where everyone is just re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic -- and without any of the dinner jackets or violins at that.