Why the Internet’s ‘Oddly Satisfying’ Content Works
Video games and videos of destruction can scratch an itch humans don’t even know they have, by bringing order to a disordered world
I have perfected my bedtime routine. I do my skincare, spritz my pillow with a lavender spray, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, and dim the lights so I can hunch over my laptop watching oddly satisfying videos until I fall asleep.
The description “oddly satisfying” has gained such enormous momentum online that it has come to represent everything from calligraphy and 3D printing to factory footage of Viennetta deserts being made. It’s an internet moment so huge and bizarre that teenagers transforming glue into pleasing mounds of malleable, multicolored slime have been made rich from the comfort of their bedrooms.
Much like the online relaxation phenomena of ASMR, it seems you either really, really get the immediate pleasurable and even anxiety-relieving nature of “oddly satisfying” content, or you don’t. At all. In fact, the repetitive, precise nature of it all can be unnerving for some. But for me, before having such easy access to endless clips of soap being neatly carved, it was a feeling I’d long wished could be bottled. One which, in the pre-“oddly satisfying” dark ages of 2013, someone once perfectly described as “When you’re cutting wrapping paper, and your scissors start to glide is what I imagine heroin feels like.”
Sandra Lee’s disgusting and thrilling pimple-popping YouTube videos also fall under the “satisfying” banner, as do macro close-ups of shards of ingrown toenails being removed from yellowed toes, and giant chunks of wax being tweezed from ears — all of which I’ve become a die-hard viewer of. The build of tension to the relief, both for the viewer and presumably the physical relief of the patient, makes each video a gross rollercoaster of emotion.
But there’s also an element of control and perfectionism involved, beyond the gratification felt. Before watching these videos my hobbies included organizing other people’s closets and sitting in front of a magnifying mirror trying to excavate every single pore on my face.