Destiny Caldwell is swimming in her pink gamer chair. It’s huge, but also her bedroom gives off the impression of being underwater. Or on another planet. Pink radiance. Candy keycaps. A smattering of Pokémon plushies, dripped on by a string of glowing LEDs.
She is in a TikTok video, reclining in pink kitty-ear headphones and a nude wig cap. “It’s getting late, so I’m getting off,” she says to someone over Discord. Suddenly, the app rings with another voice call. Caldwell goes into a frenzy. “Shit, shit, shit,” she says, adjusting her cosplay sailor uniform. She frantically puts on a long pink braided wig before accepting the call. “Hiiii!!!” says Caldwell, her voice rising 12 octaves.
“I have a question,” she says, presumably to some internet fan. “Can you buy me Cold War?” The caller agrees to buy her the video game. Again, in babyvoice: “Yay!!!!!”
Caldwell, also known as dessyyc, was lip-syncing to a TikTok meme trendy among egirls—femme gamers and otaku who live in thigh-highs and go rawr!. Like goths or scene kids, egirls are immediately recognizable, perma-posing in a schoolgirl skirt and vibrant dyed hair, maybe topped with kitty ears. The TikTok meme’s punch line plays to another definition, perhaps closer to Urban Dictionary’s: “a woman that created a[n] online persona of themselves.” Unlike goths or scene kids, you almost never encounter egirls in the wild. They exist in softgirl bedrooms and on screens: TikTok, Twitch, Instagram. Princess Peach in her castle and on your TV. Egirl lives here, and only here, an assemblage of things and likes rezzing into the most modern of digital identities. The egirl is a commodity, created from commodities. Or more accurately, they are avatars, digital-only deliveries on the long-coming hyperfeminization of gamer culture.
Just a couple of years ago, egirl was a slur used to denigrate women streaming games on Twitch, to write them off as PG-13 camgirls-for-gamers. Streaming League of Legends in a low-cut shirt? Egirl. Talking into a pink Razer Seiren X mic? Egirl. Making coffee money as a woman on the internet? Egirl. It didn’t matter how or whether they gamed, if they’d won some local Call of Duty tournaments, or were coasting on a 15-hour Stardew Valley save file. Girls couldn’t earnestly be gamers, goons maintained. Worse still, their twisted logic went, fake-gamer egirls were stealing views from real-gamer gamer boys.
“The stereotype of egirls was that they have no self-respect and would, like, cry for attention online and all have daddy issues,” says Jo, who has 8.4 million followers on TikTok under the name nintendo.grl. In early 2019, Jo blocked the word “egirl” from her TikTok comment section. Anime-soundtracked videos of her unboxing pink gamer peripherals and kawaii fashion accessories were attracting comments from big-mad chuds. “If your setup is pink, they’re like, You’re a fake gamer. But my PC could be better than yours. I could have better specs. And you’d still say that kind of thing!”
It was funny, then, when later that year, Gen Z reclaimed “egirl,” an effort not dissimilar from millennials’ effort to reclaim “slut.” From various corners of the internet, as the cultural tides of gamers and influencers collided, egirl as an aesthetic materialized, and the tone shifted: Egirls were cuter than gamers were mad. Jo noticed droves of young girls posting “egirl factory” videos, recording themselves getting pulled into rooms where they received the “egirl treatment”: the makeup, the skirt. Then, of course, they danced, swinging hips side-to-side and sticking their tongues out in the ahegao fashion—hentai’s “O” face. Jo unbanned the term and now uses “egirl” as a hashtag in her videos.
Egirl has metastasized. On Twitch, a gamer. On TikTok, an entertainer. On Instagram, a fashion icon. On Discord, maybe, a crush. A confetti explosion to greet the moment when women’s long-held interest in gaming is accepted into the mainstream, and corporatized, too.
As with anything factory-made, the egirl aesthetic became purchasable. An “egirl” tab appears under the “What’s Hot” section of the Claire’s website. Hot Topic, using “Scene” as its whetstone, sells locket chains and green hair dye in its “egirl aesthetic” category. Egirl makeup tutorials, including one for Vogue by Los Angeles rapper Doja Cat, racked up millions of views on YouTube. (In a now-signature move, Doja Cat dabs blush on the tip of her nose, looking like a cold-weather anime heroine). Egirls need the moonlight highlighter, the liquid eyeliner, the false lashes, the iridescent eyeshadow, the nose-contouring concealer. The look is incomplete still without the pore-blurring camera filters posted on social media. Corpse Husband on his track “E-GIRLS ARE RUINING MY LIFE!” sums it up: She got Death Notes / Dead souls / Split dye / Chain cold.
Beauty! But also substance. It’s no longer the 2000s, when hardcore gaming aesthetics were defined by bat signal colors. EK Cryofuel PC coolant in “Power Pink” courses through Rainbow Road tubes. Turquoise vocaloid figurines perch between a $1,500 GPU and beefy stacks of RAM. A pillowy gamer chair in pastel shades. And most importantly, the peripherals. Razer in 2018 released its Quartz Pink line—baby-pink gaming keyboards, mice, controllers, headsets, and microphones—that, more so than the clothes, became the official egirl uniform.
Egirl culture is a consumer culture. It is identifiable in an Amazon wish list, attainable with a credit card. And it is expensive, the kitty-smile collision of two commodity-centric subcultures. On average, Gen Z spends $92 a month on gaming content, not accounting for hardware. On average, Gen Z women spend $240 a year on their appearance—that’s over $1,300 a year. For egirls, that might be on the lower end. Caldwell says her monthly egirl budget oscillates between a couple hundred to a couple thousand, sometimes a thousand a week. Egirl is the confluence of two famously expensive hobbies: gaming and beauty. This is why the meme is good: “Can you buy me Cold War?”
It’s a joke, Caldwell says, in that she doesn’t talk like a helium-sniffing toddler. It’s not a joke in that her lifestyle is, in part, subsidized. “A lot of my money was going into my aesthetic because I really loved it and it made me feel good,” says Caldwell, who also works full-time. It got expensive. Very expensive. So she started posting her Amazon wish lists online. Hers currently includes a wig from a League of Legends character and a Nintendo Switch controller with kitten ears. “I’m lucky to have people who are willing to contribute to my goals and help me get the things I want, whether it’s a game or a cosplay,” she says. Plus, she adds, because she streams on Twitch, she wants the best-of-the-best PC. “A gift is a gift.”
The most well-known egirls are a distributed vision, an internet melt, collectively funded, in part, by fans’ thirst. They’re queens of the parasocial microcelebrity thing, charging $25 to $35 a month for OnlyFans “gamer girl” lewds or $25 for cosplay photosets. “It’s one of those fantasy things,” says Rusty Fawkes, an egirl with 1.5 million TikTok followers. On her OnlyFans, Fawkes posts cosplay-inspired lewds, titties out, in wigs and kitty ears. This isn’t actually how girls play video games, she says. We don’t put on a full face of makeup, a wig, and a Darling in the Franxx cosplay to zone out to some Valorant. (Sometimes viewers point out to her that her controller isn’t turned on.)
It’s hyperbole. It’s abstracted. And, Fawkes says, “it’s sexualized for them. I mean, hey, if it’s something you can market, and you want to market it, like, why not?” In 2019, egirl Belle Delphine posted an image of herself in a bathtub with her pink gaming controller: “i am now selling my BATH WATER for all you THIRSTY gamer boys 💦.” $30. It instantly sold out. One particularly enterprising PC builder peddled Belle Delphine bathwater–cooled PCs for $1,500.
This genre of professional egirl also invokes a question central to its existence: Is this a liberation? Upstream of egirl are the Rococo-inspired Japanese lolitas—in fluffy dresses with cupcakes, Victorian doll Mary Janes, and lace socks. They might seem, at face, infantilizing, an appeal to male obsession with young women. It is Lolita after all. Lolita devotees would say it’s more subversive than infantilizing. It’s anti-male gaze. It’s a deflective childishness, head-to-toe body armor against reality. More like dolls than humans.
If egirls are dolls, people are having a lot of fun dressing them up.
Maybe egirls are the natural conclusion to Donna Haraway’s 1985 cyberfeminist ideal: “creatures simultaneously animal and machine who populate worlds ambiguously natural and crafted.” Online catgirls in curated bedrooms. In high-pitched baby voice, there is producer Senzawa’s 2018 egirl anthem, reminiscent of an NSFW 2000s furry chat room role-play: Rawr!! x3 nuzzles pounces on u / uwu u so warm. Was Haraway wrong?
Caldwell is firm that egirl is empowering. She’s not doing it for men, she says, or anyone else. And kids don’t have a monopoly on cute shit. People take everything so seriously. “Yes, I game,” Caldwell mouths in another TikTok meme. She’s wearing a plushy pink bra with dangling bunny ears and matching fluffy short-shorts. “I know I don’t look like your ‘typical’ gamer, but look,” she says. The camera cuts to a video of her playing a video game on her tricked-out gaming PC. She’s moving a sponge across a dish and bobbing her head rhythmically.
A commenter doesn’t get the joke. “I don’t get it why do girls always wear that when they game,” they wrote. Caldwell is lighthearted in response. “Because I am in my space and I can wear whatever I want :).”
The constructed world of egirl, ambiguously a theatrical set and a private bedroom, is much like an ocean bubble. On the outside, the bubble is delicate, separate, rainbow reflective. The systems that give egirl meaning saturate its inside: technology and gender. The $532 billion beauty industry. The $168 billion gaming industry. Not to mention the incalculable, multiplatform industry of content creation and consumption. When it pops, it looks like the rest of the sea.
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