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The soothing sound of placing meeples: board game ASMR

An exhibition called 'Weird Sensation Feels Good' is currently running at the ArkDes (National Centre for Architecture and Design) in Stockholm. Its aim is to examine the internet phenomenon of ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (the Virtual Vernissage is a good introduction to the subject). In case you are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the tingling sensation people may experience when they hear certain sounds: glass clinking, brushing, page turning, whispering, foodstuff cutting etc. The effect is a feeling of relaxation and euphoria that seems to help deal with anxiety and depression. In its naughty versions, ASMR may also lead to sexual arousal.

Researchers are looking into the potential benefits of ASMR to an individual's mental health and well-being, as studies have shown that watching an ASMR video makes one's brain respond as if they are in the company of a well-meaning and caring person. This means that ASMR offers the relaxing benefits of social interaction without any actual interaction taking place. Which, naturally, brings us to solo gaming, and a new dimension in the way we think about components: not just the visual and tactile sensation, but especially the sounds they make when they are touched, held, placed, rolled, shuffled.

I am not going to enter into saucy territory by linking to them, but a quick Google search on 'board game ASMR' reveals soft-speaking or whispering ladies who fondle Talisman, tap their nails on Eldritch Horror, and stroke meeples, baggies, tiles etc. I'd rather post The Brothers' Murph take on the genre which, even though humorous, still succeeds in showing exactly what the aural experience of handling game bits feels like.

The board gaming community is certainly no stranger to discussions about the quality of materials, and adding extra 'bling', but so far the reasons behind paying attention to components have been purely aesthetic: visual and tactile enhancement. Only metal coins have occasionally been mentioned for bringing joy with their clinking. Admittedly, the pleasing sensation of ASMR requires the existence of a second person: the producer of sounds. I'm not sure if the same effect can be triggered by one's own sound-making. But this new trend may make us more attentive to the sensory qualities of our gaming sessions: not only what is more pleasing to the eye, but also what is more pleasing to the ear? Placing tokens on cardboard maps? Rolling dice in a padded dice tray? Handling a pile of wooden meeples?

It's hard to tell if more YouTube channels will film ASMR exclusively for board gamers, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did. And if it helps us relax, sleep, and feel better in general, it may be a trend worth pursuing. Not everyone is excited about this prospect, of course: when I announced JW the theme of this article, he told me not to forget to finish it with some box farts.

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