It's 2019 and relaxing is near impossible. There's debt, soul-crushing jobs that we hate, and that one jerk who wakes up at 4am to mow his lawn. How the hell is anyone supposed to relax in this day and age?
For me, the answer used to be video games. After a gruelling day of being a child and feeling the pressure of society on my little shoulders, the thought of getting home and playing a few hours of Final Fantasy X always used to make me feel cheerful. But as an adult, video games don't always make the cut when it comes to relaxation.
Recently, though, I was introduced to ASMR, or to be more accurate, video game ASMR. For those who, like me, got into this stuff five years too late, ASMR stands for 'autonomous sensory meridian response'. It helps you relax and gives your scalp and your spine a tingling sensation through the use of sensory stimuli, such as the whispering of voices, tearing of paper, gentle tapping on objects and a lot more.
I'd only become interested in the practice after I asked a friend about help on getting better sleep. I, like pretty much everyone else in the world, often spend most of my nights worrying over things that haven't even happened yet. Anxiety, depression... It's a volatile mix. An unforgiving one. So, frankly I was sceptical when she told me ASMR would help calm those thoughts down so I could get some sleep. I'd been interested in the practice sure, but it didn't seem possible that a few tingles could get me to sleep.
It only took a day or two for me to start using ASMR on a regular basis. Which led to me stumbling upon something entirely new: video game ASMR.
To some it may sound far-fetched or even a little strange, but I couldn't help but be intrigued by it. After all, video games are what we go to in order to lose ourselves in weird, wonderful worlds where we can feel like a hero. With video game cosplay ASMR, relaxation and roleplay become intertwined in a way that not only relaxes the mind, but can also be seen as a form of entertainment.
"I think there are a lot of different genres of ASMR, but ultimately, we're one community," says Amy Kay, a video game cosplayer known as AmyKayASMR. Asked why video game cosplay is so prominent on ASMR YouTube, Kay says she believes it comes down to our emotional connection with certain games. "Getting lost in another world and investing ourselves in these characters and storylines help us to forget about our problems."
Escapism has always been prominent when it comes to the media we consume, and ASMR is no different. But according to a Twitter user we'll call Daniel, someone who has been using ASMR to help with his insomnia for over two years now and wishes to remain anonymous, there's more entertainment purposes to video game ASMR than meets the eye.
"I've been watching theASMRnerd for a while now. His videos take you on a 'walk' through different places in Skyrim," he explains to me over DM. "It was relaxing and helped me get to sleep on nights I just couldn't rest. The first video he did for Skyrim had a lot of muted colors, so it didn't strain my eyes when I was watching it in the dark."
But beyond simple relaxation, Daniel explains that theASMRnerd's travels throughout Skyrim allowed him to see a different side of the game he hadn't really noticed.
"When playing Skyrim I never really stopped to see how peaceful it was," he says. "Hearing someone whisper over it, and sometimes, just talk randomly about their day... It was soothing and fun."
And it's not just Skyrim that works with ASMR. Phill Heslop, known as ASMRplays on YouTube, is an ASMRtist who also likes to wander through Bethesda's games sometimes. His latest, and arguably most popular romp, is through Fallout 76. Regardless of the game's rocky launch, 76's wasteland makes for gentle bucolic videos that many people love.
And all kinds of games support ASMR. Two other ASMRtists I talked to, Luna Eclipse and TingTing, caught my eye due to their Wraith Apex Legends role-playing ASMR videos. They both mentioned that they had used it for a mix of sleeping and helping with anxiety, yes, but there was also a willingness to help others too, to give back what they had learned - not just through sounds, but through roleplay as well.
Both ASMRtists in their video take the role of Wraith, performing Wraith's gestures from the game. Their performance can be seen as entertainment, yes, but that doesn't negate the sensory devices they use in order to calm people who watch them. They'll talk in Wraith's voice, and they'll mention events that makes sense within the world of Apex Legends.
Why does this work so well for so many people? I think it's simple. Dressing up and speaking softly about the games viewers are interested in helps in grounding them to a world that they recognize and want to be part of. And if you get a good night's sleep out of it, that's even better.