Parasocial Explores the Terrors of Being a Streamer Stalking Victim
Parasocial is a discomforting game about being stalked. You play as a live streamer with a budding career. You’ve got a nice Vtuber model, an engaged audience, and some fun games to play for your tight little crew. However, a seemingly-innocent game provided by one of your fans opens you up to a terrifying stalker. Knowing you’re being watched and followed makes this a chilling experience. It loads everything in the game with fear, from characters to sounds to empty hallways.
Things start off calmly enough. You wake up. Warm up some eats. Then you settle in to your computer to play some games for your fans. You have a strict order of things you need to do to prep for the stream, though. You have to turn on your Vtuber model (an online avatar that you use instead of your own face on camera), get the game up and running, and then hop onto the stream. Nothing too complicated. Once that’s all going, you can see your Vtuber model on the left screen and a creepy game on the right.
You start streaming a horror game as your character in Parasocial. It looks something like Corpse Party as you deliver pieces of paper around an abandoned school. You’re actually playing this game within a game, too, guiding a character around the decaying school. This, naturally, makes you focus on the game screen. Especially so when that game quickly gets really hard. If you die, you have to reset, and you’ll find yourself in danger right from the start. This got me to bring all of my attention to the game within the game, trying my best to stay alive.
It won’t take long before you die, though. When that happens, someone offers a new game for you to download and play. Getting downloads from strangers is a lousy idea, but part of being a streamer involves interacting with strangers online. It’s the nature of the job to talk with people who are just names on a screen. I don’t have a long career in streaming, but I definitely remember trying to engage with people I’d never met. It’s not easy to do. It is even harder when you’re trying to play a game well AND be entertaining to listen to. It’s harder still when you’ve got dead air and no game running.
So, when someone you don’t know offers you something to download in Parasocial, you might be more inclined to take it to connect with a fan. The main character does mention they’re striving for more followers, so they’re going to want to do things to make their audience happy. Risky as they may be. They’re also in a rough spot where they weren’t very good at the game they were playing and had to stop. They need to play something. They want to make that connection. So, they take the offered game and find themselves wandering around an eerie apartment filled with trash. There seems to be blood around, too. And some numbers to find out a code!
Now, using a Vtuber is a means of protecting your identity. It keeps your real face from being seen by total strangers. As you’re opening yourself up a bit to people in order to connect with them, you need to keep some parts of yourself a bit safer to compensate, right? So, if someone reads a bit too much into your online kindness, at least they don’t know what you look like. They can’t identify the inside of your house because they only know your virtual avatar. It’s a balancing act.
However, that downloaded game tips that scale by revealing the protagonist’s face to the internet. It’s a terrifying moment in Parasocial, and it sets off a feeling of fear that never lets up afterwards. Your face is now known online. That’s pretty scary when you’ve been trying to stay private, but maybe things aren’t so bad? Well, then you get a text. You’re told you need to keep streaming the games your “fan” sends or bad things will happen. You block them, but they find a way to text you again. You think you hear a sound at the door, but no one is outside when you look through the peephole. Then, you get a note saying that someone is always watching over you.
From then on, you need to live your normal life. It feels like someone is always watching you, though. People always seem to be following you around. You take out your garbage and pass several people who all seem like they’re staring at you. A man in the hallway follows you with his gaze as you walk by. A police officer seems weirdly chatty. A guy stands near the dumpster with his own garbage while you throw yours out. Every one of them feels like they could attack you at any time. You feel vulnerable as you wonder if one of them is your stalker.
It gets worse when you go into a coffee shop in Parasocial. Several people say weird things inside. There is a hooded man in the corner. Another person in a big, bulky coat sits down near you. You can’t help but feel that any of them could be after you. Even the seemingly-innocent clerk could be the stalker, right? Even though you’re here with a friend, you feel exposed. It feels like anyone could be the person stalking you.
It’s not just people you fear, though. When your friend starts talking about your personal details, it sends a chill down your spine. You feel like your stalker is definitely listening. When you’re taking the trash out and no one is around, you feel like the stalker is probably watching from somewhere out of sight. When you pass by a weird tarp on the ground, you wonder if the stalker has knocked it over while sneaking into a place. Everything and nothing all seem to indicate the stalker is around, and it winds your anxiety up tight.
I had to take breaks from Parasocial because of how effective it was at twisting me up in anxiety. Through presenting me with my safe, happy streaming space and then tearing it down with a stalker, I quickly learned to fear everything and anything around me. Even as just a brief simulation of being stalked, it made my heart clench in my chest at every single thing I saw or did. No matter how innocent a person or place may have been, knowing I was being stalked made it all terrifying.
As someone who has never dealt with stalking themselves, Parasocial seems to do a staggering job of capturing (what I perceive to be) a sense of overwhelming vulnerability that comes from being stalked. It’s a deeply frightening experience I hope I never have to deal with in my life, as this fictional stalking event was more than enough. Just a hint of this sensation of fearing everything was horrible enough.