VTubers: Digital Escapism and The Future of Content Creation

VTubing has become the latest craze in the entertainment and influencer market. Our love for escapism stems from our imperfect reality where conflict remains inescapable.

VTubing has become the latest craze in the entertainment and influencer market. Since Japanese culture established an international foothold within the entertainment industry, cyberculture has become a lucrative industry. Our love for escapism stems from our imperfect reality where conflict remains inescapable.

What does it mean to be a "streamer" today?

Kizuna Ai

VTubers use a virtual avatar to broadcast themselves by tracking their body and facial movement. The better the gear, the more realistic their avatar. This stands in contrast to live streamers, who use body cameras to capture their real-time footage. This method of hiding behind an avatar to stream has been most prominent in Japan, such as in the case of Kitzuna Ai. Ever since their soar in demand, the trend has been modified and diversified to fit within both the streamers’ and their audience’s desires.

Why We All Love VTubers

Books immerse readers in a fiction world; films capture viewers with real-time movements; video games transports us into a world sandwiched between reality and fantasy.

Japan's Top VTuber Management Company Worth $1.1 Billion

VTubing takes this on another level. It emulates the effect of the written word, and augments it to suit the audience it gears towards. Instead of focusing on fictional characters and the world they live in, the lens switches towards actual human beings. VTubing can be considered a retrofitting to streaming and its appeal to escapism, as there are limited repercussions towards the content creator. The line between fiction and fact blur with the intertwining of the virtual character; the ideas, opinions, and comments made by content creators are associated with the avatar instead of the person pulling the strings. There are fewer social expectations associated with the avatar, with limited judgement on their real visual appearance, compared to the traditional streamer.

This duality is what draws people’s attention, and the unique artstyle that anime provides adds to the appeal. Anime's “unnaturally lively and colourful or uniquely styled hair” conveys emotion in a more agreeable and passive manner.

Furthermore, the limitations of human biology are cast aside. Creators are free to add various characteristics to their avatar, from cat ears to items that cannot be described in a school newspaper. Alongside additions exemplifying adorableness, these features remind the audience that the avatar is virtual - simultaneously imprinting the thought that the ideas and opinions stated are of the avatar’s. The dual psychological processes that occur here - both the appeal to escapism through the utilization of anime styled art, and the interactions between the streamer and the audience re-enforce this appeal.

Advertising can be Lucrative

VTubing is a lucrative yet risky business venture. The cost of entry is astronomical compared to Live streamings: a high-quality virtual avatar is expensive, costing hundreds if not thousands of USD. To stand a competitive chance in the market, one must not only commission a designer, but also find a rigger to develop the model.

Surely, such a lucrative investment yields phenomenal returns. How about the profits?

With the growing popularity of VTubers, the industry has only become increasingly more profitable. The highest earning VTuber, Uruha Rushia has earned over 3.2 million USD from Youtube donations alone. With that said, only the most popular VTubers can realize significant profits from donations; it is difficult for smaller VTubers to ever make a stable income from donations. However, donations are not the only source of income.

In addition to donations, subscriptions on Twitch or memberships on YouTube can guarantee a stable source of monthly income. On both platforms, viewer have the option of paying a small monthly fee for exclusive messages, streams, or videos that are only open to members.

High-End VTubers also profit from merchandise sales. Companies often sell VTuber-related products to fans, such as key chains, acrylic stands, and posters.

However, some have voiced their concerns with the ethical nature of the industry. Are VTubers exploiting lonely viewers into donating their hard-earned income? It is ethical to trap viewers into parasocial relationships for economic gain?

Our love for escapism stems from our imperfect reality where conflict remains inescapable. When consuming media, we must keep in mind that all forms of entertainment remain crucial tools for spreading ideas (constructive or destructive), which can influence our behaviours and our attitudes towards certain concepts.

VTubers are now a dime a dozen, and viewers simply have too many alternatives. In the end, viewers are what drives revenue; it is an entertainment industry, after all.