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If you’ve ever used the livestreaming website Twitch or consider yourself an avid online gamer, chances are you’ve encountered not just the word Kappa but the emoticon (emote) associated with it. It’s one of the web’s most prevalent memes. Created by former Justin.tv employee Josh DeSeno as an Easter egg in 2009, the Kappa emote was unveiled by a Twitch user and it inevitably took off. Everyone on Twitch uses it all the time now. But why?
Well, in the viral content age, it’s difficult to truly know why something flourishes. But in the case of Kappa, it’s easy to see. Literally. DeSeno’s face, taken from his photo ID, embodies the troll and trash-talking culture of the internet, especially when it comes to the world of online gaming.
“People told me he has sort of a snarky looking face in that photo,” Jacob Woodsey, vice president of product design at Twitch, said in an interview with Mashable when Kappa first become a viral sensation. “But I took the photo. He wasn’t being snarky at the time; he was smiling at me. I don’t know why it represents that, but I think everyone accepts that it does now, which is pretty incredible and powerful.”
All it took was to convert it to greyscale.
Granted, DeSeno has moved on from Justin.tv and Twitch, but his legacy as Kappa will live on forever.
9 facts about the Kappa meme
1) Kappa is basically the “j/k” equivalent for the Twitch.tv community
The word “Kappa” often comes at the end of an ironic or sarcastic statement, so if you see a sentence with the last word being Kappa, you shouldn’t take it seriously.
2) Kappa was inspired by DeSeno’s passion for Japanese mythology
A part of Japanese mythology is the yokai—a group of supernatural monsters—which includes the aquatic reptilian humanoid Kappa. When he was naming his emote, the word Kappa came to DeSeno’s mind and the name sort of makes sense, considering Kappas are mischievous and enjoy farting loudly in public. However, here’s where Kappas get very volatile and weird, according to a website dedicated to the Yokai:
“They have been known to kidnap or rape swimming women, and to devour humans alive. Usually they go for the anus—in particular a mythical ball of flesh located just inside the anus, called the shirikodama.”
Yup. Kappas enjoy feasting on human entrails, specifically some mythical ball of flesh inside our butts (maybe Kappas were the inspiration for Jhene Aiko’s “But he gotta eat the booty like groceries” line?), but they also enjoy eating cucumbers, too.
3) He never thought he would go viral
In a Reddit AMA on the phenomenon, DeSeno said he picked the name because it was short—most emotes at the time were lengthy—but he never expected to be popular.
“[I] added my face as an Easter egg. I used Kappa because I’m interested in Japanese stuff, thought it was a cool word etc, and also because it was short (all the other emotes at that time had crazy long names: RedCoatBill etc) & I thought it wouldn’t be typed often. Boy was I wrong.”
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4) There are a number of different Kappa emotes
In no particular order:
KappaRoss: an emoticon mashup of the Kappa emote with Bob Ross’ distinctive hair. KappaRoss was made in honor of the late Bob Ross’ 73rd birthday and the official launch of the Creative Directory on Twitch, which allowed users to stream their creative process on the platform.
KappaClaus: a Kappa emote wearing a Santa Claus hat. This version was created for Christmas 2015 and although it’s one of the less popular Kappa emotes used by the Twitch.tv community, it has a resurgence every time the holidays come around.
Keepo: an emoticon mashup of the Kappa emote with Meepo, the hero from popular online multiplayer game Dota 2. The emoticon is usually used in Dota 2 live streams and peaks during the Dota 2’s The International competition.
KappaHD: A high-definition, 200-pixel version of the Kappa emote.
“This is the genesis of all things Twitch,” Frank R. Zakowski, Twitch VP of Interoffice Shipping and Deliverables, said in a statement when the KappaHD emote first dropped. “All the integrations and business deals, raising new capital and greatly expanding our infrastructure, it was all for this. KappaHD will be the product Twitch hangs its hat upon. Video games: you’re welcome.”
MiniKappa: Commonly known as MiniK, this version of the Kappa emote is simply much smaller than the original one.
5) There’s also apparently a golden Kappa
Last year a Reddit thread sprung up after user rox666 asked about the existence of golden Kappas.
“When I was in a stream recently, someone started to write golden Kappas. He himself don’t [sic] know where they come from. They are written just the same as the normal Kappas. So the question is, how to get this golden Kappa,” they wrote.
What came after was a number of responses as users came together to try and figure out where the golden Kappas came from and how they could get them. Ultimately, users realized that there was no specific method of getting the golden Kappa, except to hope that they would be gifted the sought after emote randomly (as was the case with this user, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one).
However, the wealth was limited somewhat, since whoever is surprised with the golden Kappa is only able to use it for one day. What also makes the existence of the golden Kappa that much better is the fact that the Twitch.tv staff has allegedly neither confirmed nor denied its existence, adding to the allure of the popular Kappa variant.
6) Kappa is the most popular Twitch emote
According to data courtesy of FiveThirtyEight, Kappa comes in at first, by an almost unfathomable factor. At one point, the Kappa meme was used 1.3 million times a day on Twitch. It popped up over 15 times every second. The next closest emote was also of DeSeno: KappaPride. Keepo is also on the top 10 list, coming in at number six. In other words, three Kappa-based emotes are some of the most used on Twitch.
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7) There once was a website dedicated to showing how many times Kappa was used per minute on Twitch
This website, claimed to be created by a user named OptionalField, detailed not only how many times Kappa was used per minute on Twitch but many other emotes. However, the website is no longer accessible.
8) Twitch users competed to see which channel could use the most Kappas per minute
Documented by Twitch user Lirik, this almost nine-hour video shows both Lirik and a number of other Twitch users using the Kappa emote as much as they can during the stream. Ultimately, Lirik came out first, having used the emote 12,087 times in 60 seconds.
9) Kappa has gone mainstream
Much like any meme that grows and grows on the internet, Kappa eventually burst out into the real world, confusing the hell out of normies.
Here, the Kappa meme had it’s breaking out party on WWE Raw.
Even DeSeno said he thought that was weird. But what are you gonna do?
Elijah Watson is an internet culture and entertainment reporter. His work has been published by the Daily Beast, Vice, Complex, Bustle, Uproxx, and Okayplayer.