Several years ago, a small number people on internet message boards started bonding around a shared experience: how the sound of whispering, crinkling or tapping produced a relaxing, even euphoric tingling sensation in their bodies. Dubbed ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response—the phenomenon has sparked a thriving subculture of whispery video creators on Youtube, and now, the first ASMR experience created specifically for virtual reality.
The K3ys is a collaboration between three of the most popular ASMR creators: Ally Maque of ASMRrequests, Heather Feather and Maria of Gentle Whispering. Although the 17-minute video is best experienced is best viewed through a VR headset like the Oculus Rift, you can watch a two-dimensional version of The K3ys in your browser, and navigate using keyboard or mouse.
The K3ys transports you to a dark clearing in the middle of the woods late at night; you find yourself surrounded by the sounds of crickets and cicadas as a full moon lingers overhead. Three women dressed in dark, hooded robes walk in a circle around you, pausing to provide poetic, soft-spoken musings words of encouragement.
Played by Maque and her co-creators, they identify themselves Time, Courage and Wisdom, metaphysical beings who have come to offer you heroic talismans, pep talks—and ASMR triggers, of course. The result is both soothing and relentlessly optimistic, somewhere between a self-help litany and a lullaby.
Offworld recently profiled Maque for her ASMR series focusing on science fiction and futurism, but she describes The K3ys as more of a mystical or fantasy-themed experience set at a crucial point in the monomythical Hero's Journey: the moment when the hero begins to doubt their abilities, and becomes unsure whether or not they can press on.
"We wanted to create a fictional narrative that could hold up and be applicable to real life," says Maque. "We're all on our own 'journey' in a way, and we all experience times of difficulty and hardship, and times of self-doubt. We wrote the story with the hope that, as well as being entertained and relaxed, any viewer who's going through a hard time could put him or herself in the place of this hero and find some comfort."
"I can help you find courage," whispers one of the hooded women in The K3ys. "You are not born brave, you become it. Because courage exists in the face of fear, and fear is often learned… Courage will help you find your truth, and bravery will help you accept it."
Even if you aren't one of the people who experiences ASMR's characteristic "brain tingle," there's a more universal appeal that shines through in videos like The K3ys: the need to feel safe, cared for and comforted. It's no wonder that so many people use ASMR for anxiety and sleep problems; who doesn't want to hear a golden-voiced woman whispering over and over that everything is going to be all right? It's an experience that doesn't lend itself well to irony, and doesn't need to.
The concept for K3ys took shape after Maque and her partner Josh Dekotora formed a fledging VR business called Pixelwhipt, and connected with the New York-based 360 degree video Littlstar. "The idea just kind of came together after that: What if we could pioneer the first virtual reality ASMR video, where the viewer could actually enter the scene for the very first time?" says Maque.
While there are still plenty of skeptics who don't buy into the world-changing hype about virtual reality headsets, ASMR seems particularly well-suited for the technology. It's always been an experience rooted in sensory immersion; many ASMR creators already make their videos with binaural audio to creates a roving sense of 3D sound. For Maque, the move to VR was just the next logical step: "There's such an obvious harmony between the two."
Moving forward, Maque wants to create as much of her content in VR as possible, especially around ASMR. She believes that it will offer her fans—who currently crowdfund her videos to the tune of $2,500 a month—experiences that she simply can't give them with traditional 2D videos.
"People crave the visceral. If you have the choice between watching a two-dimensional story unfold on a flat rectangle in front of your face, versus stepping inside of that story and living it yourself, which would you choose? To me, it's a no-brainer… It's just obvious to me that VR will be the way we bring people even closer to the stories they want and love."