Ironmouse and the power of VTubing: “You become a superhero”

Andrew Amos
Ironmouse smiling on twitch stream

Ironmouse has grown from a soft-spoken streamer to Twitch’s biggest VTuber with a boisterous personality. The medium hasn’t just given the VShojo star an audience, but allowed her to find friends, confidence, and achieve the impossible.

Ironmouse was growing tired after hours upon hours of signing prints of herself for fans. The VTuber had opened up a store with two options to pick from, and the lovable star would put her mark on them as well as a special message inside for those who opted.

When I spoke to her right after the first signing session live on stream ⁠— reading viewers’ messages while writing her own ⁠— it was basically all a blur. “I was so shocked,” she said, reflecting on the amount of traction it got. “I don’t remember… what was the number?”

Roxy, Ironmouse’s head moderator, quickly chimed in: “In the first hour you had several hundred of them and within 2-3 hours they were sold out.”

She exclaimed at the sheer number, before realizing while she had done a mountain of signings, there was an Everest-sized amount left scattered around for her to complete. “It’s okay I wore my [arm] brace,” she laughed. “Somebody yelled at me.”

She was trying her best to keep her autograph the same for everyone. That fell flat pretty quickly. “I tried to do it the same but as the night went on I realized that as much as I thought it looks the same, it does not look the same.” 

Such is the life of Ironmouse now, Twitch’s biggest VTubing sensation

Ironmouse smiling with glasses
Ironmouse is Twitch’s biggest VTuber with more than 1.3 million followers.

“There’s two different versions of me”

Ironmouse isn’t just an overnight success story. In fact, as far as internet creators go, she’s been on one of the toughest grinds to reach her level of stardom. The Puerto Rican VTuber started out in the dark days of virtual streaming back in 2017, when the only name the internet really knew was Kizuna AI.

The Japanese VTuber, who many consider to be the first, was this fringe figure people online knew about but never really paid attention to. But for Mousey, she was an idol. With musical talents akin to her own, she could somewhat see herself in those shoes.

There were a couple of problems though. One: VTubing was niche ⁠— even by today’s standards the community is still relatively niche, but back then it was as underground as it comes. The second? She didn’t know where to start from a technical and personal point of view.

“I saw so many people streaming and I went ‘I want to do that’ but I didn’t think anybody was going to watch me because I’m not fun and I don’t have the life experience to tell interesting stories. I didn’t think anything of it,” she stated.

“I was really nervous about showing myself because of my personal issues but I had a friend who introduced me to a program called FaceRig.

“I was watching a lot of Kizuna AI and to me it felt impossible because I would see her and think ‘man she must have a huge team and this is really expensive to do’. My friend comes in and she’s like ‘there’s a program called FaceRig, you can be an anime girl on the internet,’ and I’m like ‘no one is going to watch me’ but I guess everything happens the way it did.”

Those personal issues are something Ironmouse has been very public with. She suffers from common variable immunodeficiency (CVID) as well as a lung condition. This left the rather personable entertainer stuck indoors for years ⁠— long before the world started its own self-isolation ⁠— hooked up to oxygen around the clock so as to not fall even more ill.

Adapting to this new lifestyle was hard when she was diagnosed, but VTubing allowed her to stay in touch with the outside world, and even helped with treating her condition once she started blowing up in 2020 and she could afford better care.

“My situation was very strange because I’ve always been very extroverted, but because of how I have to live I’ve had to be introverted,” she explained. “Humans are social creatures and they have to be able to communicate with other people. 

“I have these two conflicting things in me and VTubing helped me reconcile that. It’s offered me a lot of opportunities to learn how to socialize more and be more comfortable as myself and sharing myself with others.”

It’s an interesting thought ⁠— especially for someone like Ironmouse who describes herself as “terminally online” ⁠— to have a conflicting view between online persona and real-life identity. There is an Ironmouse that doesn’t stream on Twitch as the embodiment of Satan, but there’s also the one that’s online singing opera and screaming at games. 

They’re two distinct identities, but they ultimately make up her being: “I see them as parts of a whole. There’s me ⁠— I am Ironmouse [the person], but there’s also Ironmouse [the streamer]. There’s two different versions of me. You know the ‘we have three wolves inside of us’ meme? I have like 20,000 wolves.”

It wasn’t always that way though. In the early days, Ironmouse did her best to hide her condition. She didn’t stream for hours on end, and the avatar acted as a privacy screen.

Once word got out though, it changed the dynamic entirely.

“It’s so strange because I get two different things,” Ironmouse said. 

“For a long time, I didn’t say anything. I got people who didn’t know at all that I was sick and somebody asked me a question one stream and I answered. They were like ‘wait you were sick this whole time?’ 

“But then, on the other hand, I have the people who are very hyper-aware of my condition and I appreciate their concern ⁠— they’re very caring and they want to make sure that I’m okay ⁠— but it’s a lot.

“I appreciate it because I know they mean well and they aren’t being malicious. It’s just navigating that.”

The word ‘parasocial’ gets thrown around a lot in the streaming space in terms of viewers getting close to a streamer in a very one-way relationship. It’s almost become a meme with diehard fans ⁠— but Ironmouse knows that feeling better than anyone.

Although many people think it’s a one-way street, it’s really not in the eyes of the star VTuber. If it was, she wouldn’t have found a way to absolve herself from that loneliness she’s felt for years. Twitch streaming for her isn’t just screaming out into the void, that social interaction ultimately keeps her sane ⁠— although watching her you’d maybe think otherwise.

“I’ve said this to chat before: I feel like people are super parasocial all the time. It’s not just VTubing or streaming, it’s everything. I think I’m as parasocial as they are. I love talking to people and the subathon that I did was so much fun and I had such a great time. 

“I feel streaming helps me a lot. It helps me with stress and it’s very important to me. Interacting with people is important to me.

“I don’t see myself as a content creator. I see myself being dumb and people accidentally witnessing stuff and enjoying it. I’m pretty laid back, but trying to find structure at the same time ⁠— it’s kind of weird. Call it chaotic good, even though people say I’m chaotic evil that’s not true.”

Growing through VTubing

Among finding friends and trying to blur out loneliness, VTubing has allowed Ironmouse to explore sides to herself that she wouldn’t have ever dreamed of. Once extroverted, being locked indoors stripped away a lot of that confidence.

She could have never dreamed about putting herself out there as an entertainer to just a few people to start. The same goes for blowing up across 2020, and working up towards her record-breaking 31-day subathon that brought in more than 170,000 Twitch subscribers. All those achievements that were once flights of fancy were now tangible.

Being able to put on a ‘suit of armor’ in the form of her cute pink-mouse-slash-devil VTuber model and interact with others online ⁠— following in the footsteps of idols like Kizuna AI ⁠— let Ironmouse grow as a person.

“I just really liked what Kizuna AI was doing a lot. She inspired me, but also I always had a fascination with people who were faceless and anonymous, who would create content and put it out there like Corpse. He was faceless for a long time and I thought that was very interesting. It was appealing to me because in real life I’m sick. 

“In my mind, I don’t have a lot of confidence in myself and I just figured I’d like to make friends ⁠— that was the ultimate goal for me, I just wanted to talk to anybody and I didn’t think anything was going to come of it. I just wanted people to want to hang out with me and spend time with me because they thought I was funny and see me for me and not get distracted by my medical situation. It’s complex. Anonymity is wonderful. 

“The fact you’re playing a character is great too, but the character is me ⁠— just a more complete, crazier version of me. I really enjoy it, and who doesn’t want to be a cute anime girl?”

It’s been a wild five years, but it all circles around to that one goal of “making friends”. She’s made more than 1 million of them on Twitch if you go by her follower count, but on a more personal level Ironmouse has managed to explore the world from her bedroom.

“They’re all from different walks of life. I always used to be afraid of getting close to people but it’s so much easier now and I’m glad that I did [start VTubing] because I’ve met a lot of incredible people.”

But even if VTubing success is the one thing everyone can see, finding small glimpses of hope within reality brings an extra level of joy that went long unrealized in her life. 

“I never used to be able to plan things out or write stuff into a calendar because my life was very unpredictable. Now I can though.”

Ironmouse doesn’t see herself as an industry leader ⁠— the mere mention of that while I was on call with her left her squealing. But she’s not completely oblivious to her impact, and what’s changed within herself.

“For me, I’ve never felt more myself in my life. I’ve never felt more independent. Ironmouse brought the best in me and I’m starting to feel more comfortable with myself. It’s similar to a lot of people. 

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who started VTubing who were like ‘man I felt so free and I felt like I could do anything’. It’s like you’re putting on a suit of armor and you become a superhero and you can do things you never thought you could do before.”