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In Skyrim, a game about shouting, ASMR players prefer to whisper

Shhhh ro dah...

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

When you think of Skyrim, what sound immediately springs to mind? Is it the sonorous chants of its soundtrack? The forceful shouts of Fus Ro Dah? Or the roar of a dragon as it appears over the crest of a snow-peaked mountain? Whatever it is, it probably isn’t quiet. The Elder Scrolls and Skyrim, after all, are well known for their immense sense of scale and grand sound design.

But not all Dragonborns are destined to shout. There are a number of players who use Skyrim as a tool to relax not only themselves but others too, taking advantage of the game’s audio and visuals to create a soothing environment.

ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), describes a static-like sensation that often begins in the scalp or neck area. Despite seeing little research from the psychological community, the phenomenon has become popular on YouTube, with ‘ASMRtists’ producing content specifically to relax their audience and provoke this reaction.

This is where The Elder Scrolls comes in. There have been a number of gaming-related videos published on ASMR channels, with a vast majority of them focusing on the beloved RPG series. I wanted to find out what makes Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls so popular with ASMRtists and what goes into the making an ASMR video.

For theASMRnerd, who prefers to go by his online moniker, his first experiences with ASMR came from watching TV shows like Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood and The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross as a child. It wouldn’t be until many years later, in 2011, while he was struggling to sleep, that he discovered the ASMR community on YouTube through creators like WhisperCrystal, DonnaASMR, and RelaxingASMR. Seeing his chance to combine his passion for gaming with his appreciation of ASMR, he created his own channel two years later in 2013.

Phill “ASMRplays” Heslop had a similar introduction. Working late shifts at his full-time job as the manager of a cinema, he used ASMR as a way to de-stress and relax after a long day at work, before eventually taking the plunge into making his own ASMR content a few years later.

Both creators feature Skyrim extensively across their channels. TheASMRnerd does everything from videos in which he reads the game’s lore, to playthroughs, and even examining the cartography of Skyrim. He has a long-running Wandering in Skyrim series too, in which he explores the northern province while providing gentle narration for the pleasure of the viewer.

“Skyrim is great for ASMR for several reasons,” theASMRnerd says. “It’s beautiful and fantastical, making for perfect escapism. It has exceptional sound design with lovely natural ambience and evocative music. [And] it has a rich lore, which makes it easy to get lost in the fiction of the world and gives me lots of content to work from with my narration.”

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Heslop agrees but suggests that familiarity also has a huge part to play in making Skyrim so popular among ASMRtists. “Obviously it has been out for so long – I’ve played it since it first came out on Xbox 360 and then all the way through to PC, as I play now. A lot of people have, so I think a lot of people know the game inside out and they’ve put so many hours into it. It’s very familiar, the places are very familiar, but there’s still things that can surprise you a little bit.”

Heslop also stresses the importance of Skyrim mods as this allows ASMRtists to tweak the game so that it’s more in line with the soothing experience they’re after. Whether that be softening or improving the graphics, bulking the soundscape with new foley, or adding a new storyline to keep Skyrim fresh all these years after its original release. TheASMRnerd applies cosmetic mods to enhance Skyrim’s lush, natural landscapes, and uses console commands to make his character invisible to the AI as he wanders around. It is this second trick that prevents any jarring confrontations with Skyrim’s more hostile wildlife, like frostbite spiders and dragons.

But not all ASMRtists use the same methods. Heslop, in contrast, adopts a more conventional approach with his Let’s Plays, keeping combat intact. Instead, he focuses his attention on improving the quality of the sounds in the game with mods, using a reverb and ambience overhaul and new immersive sounds to achieve this. This approach gives the game’s audio a much softer and smoother sound for the listener, which is especially useful when tackling the likes of archery, with its twang of the bow and puncturing of flesh, which can be quite harsh on the ears.

Opinions on ASMR are still divided. While many people openly watch and engage with ASMR videos and the community on YouTube, there are some who simply do not understand its appeal and even ridicule those who do.

“I get people who know nothing of ASMR stumbling across my Skyrim wanders and leaving comments ranging from bemused to horrified,” theASMRnerd says. “ASMR whispering isn’t for everybody, and I totally get that. I’ve been lucky to find a sizeable and dedicated audience that seems to love what I do!”

Heslop has had a more positive experience, stating that he hasn’t had any negativity directed at him at all. “[I get feedback] all the time,” he says. “Whether it’s comments, or emails people have sent. People have also messaged me on social media, telling me about a particular video they enjoy. To destress and relax is kind of the idea of my videos. To have that alternative to the more mainstream videos that are out there.”

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It is a wonder how Skyrim has managed to endure so many years in popularity. The reason may exist beyond its enduring quality, its appearance on every console since 2011, and the many mods that people make for it on PC. Perhaps it is due to the number of small communities have embraced the game, some in hushed tones rather than a shout, whispering softly into its ear, sending a prickling sensation down the back of the neck.