One of the fastest-growing creators on the internet, Imane Anys aka Pokimane, illustrates how leading with kindness is key.
The internet can be an incredibly incendiary place, and nobody knows that better than content creators. Beginning to game online at the age of eleven, Imane Anys aka Pokimane had no inkling her life would become a whirlwind. Using games as a means of escape and a way to connect with other like-minded people, she found her solace in that niche. Finding refuge in other worlds and other stories. Fast forward to 2023, and she is one of the most followed creators online, boasting nearly 10 million followers on Twitch alone, and about 6.6 million on YouTube. She has cultivated her audience by building a foundation of trust, communication, and transparency. For many, Pokimane is their safe space online. In a male-dominated industry, amid the criticism and abusive behaviour, Pokimane takes everything in her stride. While speaking with her, you can’t help but sense how much she cares about what she creates. And it’s that positive energy, that contagious kindness, that keeps people coming back for more.
Anys is the genuine article. What you see is what you get; from sharing her highs to sharing her lows, the creative doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of life. She is acutely aware of the many eyes on her content and her impact. Sharing those vulnerable sides of herself for all to see. But that’s what’s so refreshing about watching her evolve and seeing her content grow along with her. Pokimane has become bolder, and more self-assured, finding catharsis by showing the real-life struggles she goes through, and how she copes, in the hopes that it will reach the ears of someone who needs it.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Dana Reboe, Pokimane discusses the need for communication and transparency with her audience, her guilty pleasure, what she misses about playing Among Us and so much more.
Can you talk about your journey from when you first started gaming online to where you are today? What lessons have you learned about yourself?
When I started gaming online, I was so young, like 11 or 12. It was just a fun way to meet new people, to meet different kinds of people, almost like social experimenting without the risks of doing it in person, you know? And over the years, it’s somehow turned into this insane career. I’ve learned so much about myself, mainly about how everybody just wants to fit in and feel like they belong. And sometimes you feel that based on the typical factors people relate to. Whether that’s culture, background, socioeconomic status, etc. Sometimes, the best way to feel like you belong is by bonding over hobbies like gaming, so I think that was my biggest learning lesson, among many others.
The internet has been a great tool in so many ways, especially for finding like-minded people. I’m so glad you found solace in that. In 2022 decided to take a mental health break and you were very transparent about it online. What was your thought process behind that decision? And why was it important for you to share it with your audience?
Every two years or so I feel like my mental health just bottoms out because of content creation. Well, not just that, but pursuing different business ventures, and co-running certain organizations or companies. I love to do so many things at once. I am not the best at gauging my own bandwidth [both laugh]. I hit a brick wall, I’m burnt out and I’m like, I got to disappear for a month. Near the end of my break, or throughout it, I was struggling with feeling a certain type of way about what I was doing, what I wanted my future to look like, and how I wanted to evolve as a person. I felt the best way to rid myself of some of that guilt and stress and uncertainty was just to talk about it. In the past, that has been what helped me the most. Whenever I feel like something is on my chest, weighing me down, opening up to my audience helps me feel much more at ease, and not like I’m hiding anything. Being transparent has always helped me a lot. And I think it’s nice to keep them up to date instead of worrying or being unsure. It adds to that connectivity you feel with your audience.
Absolutely. Communication is key in all things. A lack of it can lead to so many misunderstandings and assumptions. At least with you speaking so transparently, you control the narrative and nobody else does, which I think is important.
Another learning lesson I went through! [laughs]
To switch it up a little bit, what inspires you? Not only as a creative on the internet but as a human being? What moves you?
I love it when people are excited and passionate about something. I love people who know exactly what they want, especially when it’s not what is typically desirable in society. So sometimes I find people who have cool hobbies, whether that’s knitting or crocheting, like, ‘Oh, maybe you should start an Etsy or a business or something’ like ‘No, I love this as a hobby, and I want to keep it as such.’ Being certain about what you want in life is amazing and is helpful in navigating all the pressures that we feel both from people and now from all these different sources online. It inspires me so much when people find what they love and are very sure of that.
Absolutely. Speaking of hobbies, do you have any at the moment?
As of late, I love reading. And I don’t know if this counts as a hobby, but I love reality TV, and nobody will take that from me! [laughter]
Okay, then I have to ask: what’s your guilty pleasure?
I have too many. Netflix’s Too Hot to Handle. That kind of stuff. Love Island, that’s probably my number one guilty pleasure. And some of the Real Housewives, Selling Sunsets, and The Bling Empire. I’m telling you, I went on a reality TV binge last year, but luckily, I like to even it out with productive hobbies as well. One of my favorite things to do is to go on a walk and listen to a podcast that’s good for you in some way. Apparently, when you walk, because you’re doing some form of exercise, you can retain information better. It’s really, really relaxing and a way to take care of myself. And then when I want to mellow out? I’ll watch TV.
That’s the cool thing about reality TV, you just get to switch your brain off and watch somebody else’s mess.
Exactly! Sometimes you need to do that.
100% it’s kind of taking comfort in ‘well, my life may be a mess, but at least it’s not…whatever that is.’
It’s not that messy.
In a vlog you posted in February, you stated that working on yourself can be a lonely process. In those moments, how do you mitigate, or do you just embrace that?
It’s a bit of both. To some extent, it’s good to embrace that feeling and accept that during certain seasons of your life, when you have certain goals, it may be a lonely journey and that’s okay. But you also shouldn’t lean into it per se. If there are little ways you can find to alleviate that feeling, call a friend, text someone, or reach out, small things will make a huge difference. I felt the same way in school. When you’re studying something that is so consuming, like engineering or a lot of STEM fields, it can feel very lonely. So, it’s good to find outlets and ways to get comfort, whether that’s from people who are going through the same thing or a friendly ear. And, reassure yourself like ‘I may feel this way right now, but this isn’t forever.’
You also tweeted back in February that you missed the Among Us days. What about it do you miss?
Among Us was such a unique concept, game, and period of our lives. As streamers, we were all able to get together. A game where you can play with nine or more other people is extremely uncommon. Most gaming maybe you’ll do alone. At max, you’ll play with two, three, or maybe four others. But these ginormous lobbies where you had ten content creators coming together to collab was just unprecedented. And I think the fact that it was unprecedented was so exciting and cool. I kind of miss that feeling.
Honestly, I agree. I remember during the height of the pandemic, I would play with a group of friends, and it was such a comfort because I couldn’t physically see them, but at least we could still have a good time.
It was a comfort tool during a difficult time and something about that is so nostalgic and wholesome in a way.
As we continue into 2023, what is something you would like to manifest for yourself this year?
I would love to manifest some really, cool travel experiences. And not just the experience of going somewhere but being able to see things I’ve never seen before. I’ll hopefully take my audience along for the ride and share that. I think that’s what I’d love to do.
Is there anywhere in particular that you’d really like to go?
One of the places that was on my bucket list was the Philippines and I’m going this summer. I’m so excited. I’m not sure aside from that, I guess that’s something to scratch off. [Laughter]
To switch gears, as a first-generation immigrant, can you talk a little bit about breaking away from familial expectations and what it was like to find your escape in gaming?
When you’re young and still living under your parents’ roof, it’s very hard to break from those familiar expectations. And frankly, it’s a work in progress. You need to constantly communicate who you are, and what kind of life you want to lead. Especially if it’s something they don’t expect, and hope that over time they start to better understand as my parents have, luckily. I don’t know how I was so self-aware when I was young, but I just knew I need to make sure I make them happy while I’m here and when I’m an adult, I can live my life more freely. And I’m very lucky also that my parents are very understanding of that. As an adult, even if I go to them with a decision that they might not want. They don’t get mad at me. They simply tell me like you know what they would wish for me in a very respectful and considerate manner, but they always tell me at the end of the day, you’re grown now. It’s up to you to make that final decision. And so, in two parts, one is patience, and two, I was very, very lucky that my parents are understanding.
I love that answer. And last but not least, what is a piece of advice you’d give to your younger self knowing everything you do now?
I would just say to be a bit more open-minded. When I was younger, it was so clear, you know what’s right and what’s wrong. But the reality of life is that there’s so much nuance to everything, anything 90% of it is just grey. And maybe there’s a little bit of black in there, too. Yeah, be more open-minded and less defensive in the sense of trying to categorize things as good or bad. You’ll learn so much more from life experiences and from other people that way.
Follow Pokimane @pokimanelol
Interview Dana Reboe
Photography Adam Rindy