This article was originally published in February of 2019. We're republishing it now because there's no better time for a wholesome story like this.
On a busy bridge in Alinor, sandwiched between the fast-travel wayshrine and the crowded crafting stations, hundreds of Elder Scrolls Online players will cross from one part of the busy city to another. Some thunder over riding horses or bears. Others pause for a moment to rummage through their inventory bags. One particular player, a splotchy black and white Argonian, does the most useless thing a person could be doing at the heart of a lively MMO hub. His name is Sleeps-On-Bridges, and he logs on every night to do exactly that.
When a friend told me about Sleeps-On-Bridges I had been absent from ESO, and all other MMOs, for a few years. I’d formed an unproductive Facebook-like habit of logging in daily to frown at my full inventory or list of incomplete achievements and then logging out disappointed and unmotivated. But her description of the Argonian’s routine reminded me of the shenanigans that first endeared me to online RPGs over a decade ago.
I fell in love with Guild Wars as a teenager,enamored with the camaraderie between players goofing around in the starter zone. They would scrutinize one another’s outfits, start dance battles, and develop reputations that other players knew them by. When I heard about the Argonian player who spends hours facedown in the middle of the city, it was my proof that the whimsical attitudes of MMO players were still alive and well. I had pulled out and dusted off nostalgia that only his existence could validate, so I went looking for him.
I cross-referenced several Reddit posts about Sleeps-On-Bridges, netting me the exact location of his bridge. In game, my Khajiit thief leaned against the bridge flipping a coin with a levity that I didn’t feel. I felt vulnerable, getting so excited about a character that could amount to nothing more than a fleeting joke. I was self-consciously toeing the line between journalism and stalking. Hours later, Sleeps-On-Bridges still hadn't showed. Maybe I’d missed him. Maybe he was in another map instance. Disappointed, but not discouraged, I vowed to come back the following day.
The second night, with the sky dark outside my own window and over the city of Alinor in-game, I found Sleeps-On-Bridges exactly where he was promised to be. I watched and waited. Over the course of four nights, my Khajiit skulked at the edge of the bridge. I assimilated myself into the colorful cast of regulars like a spear fisher wading into shallow water and standing completely still until the prey forgets the hunter’s presence. I watched other players sleep beside Sleeps-On-Bridges. Some played music to him. Others stopped to laugh and clap. Most often, Sleeps-On-Bridges would remain motionless on the ground. On rare occasions, he stood up to wave back, join in playing music, or taunt the city’s NPC guards.
I did not go unnoticed as I watched. I became expected. Without ever speaking a word, I earned an invitation to Sleeps-On-Bridges’ own guild. I was dubbed one of the Bridge Sleepers. After more than a week of silently watching, I messaged Sleeps-On-Bridges on Discord.
The unlikely trendsetter
What I found was a reserved, shy player (who I refer to as just Sleeps) whose passive approach to the spotlight became an attempt to reflect that attention back to the community forming around him. The natural first question: "Why?" Why this character and why this bridge in Alinor?
"I think Alinor is special because it's the starting zone for new characters if they own [the Summerset expansion] and because it's the latest chapter it means a lot of veteran players are playing through it too," Sleeps said. "So he gets a lot of eyes, new and old, looking at him. I wanted to experiment with this idea with a new character, so I took my love for Argonians and created Sleeps-On-Bridges as a somewhat lore-friendly character that could occupy the bridge in that area."
Sleeps-On-Bridges’ name isn’t remarkable for the lizard people of Tamriel. Argonian names are commonly descriptive phrases. Other Elder Scrolls games feature Argonians with names like Hauls-Ropes-Faster and Watches-the-Roots.
The original plan for Sleeps-On-Bridges was a simple one. He was a silly little experiment over a weekend, just to see if players would notice him. "If I could manage to make a couple of people laugh, then it would have been worth it," Sleeps said. "Throughout that weekend I was surprised at the amount of people that would stop and interact, whether it be a simple comment as they were passing by or joining me in my sleep."
Now, months later, Sleeps-On-Bridges is a fixture in the city of Alinor. The bespeckled Argonian has evolved from a quick experiment into his main character. Sleeps-On-Bridges never would have lasted so long without the rest of the ESO community, Sleeps says. "Even though I created the character Sleeps-On-Bridges, I feel like it was the ESO community that truly developed him."
A home-hatched hero
After Sleeps-On-Bridges’ first couple weeks in his favorite spot, a fan community erupted around him. Another player formed the Bridge Sleeper Tribe guild and the little clique took off. Sleeps found the setup exactly to his liking. "I thought this was perfect, because Sleeps is a very passive character and I didn't want to feel like he was in a position of authority over other guild members." Members have come and gone and leadership of the guild inevitably fell to Sleeps. Although it’s currently over 150 members and growing, the Bridge Sleeping Tribe is an informal bunch and Sleeps-On-Bridges has become a willing figurehead. Other strong personalities keep the guild chat and the bridge exciting while Sleeps-On-Bridges continues to do exactly what he’s always done.
Sleeps never gives direction to guildmates or requests their presence on the bridge. He’s happy to be surprised by the community’s antics around him. "My favorite quality of our bridge sleeping culture is how it is a 100% organic hobby that players choose to do without my request or direct influence. A recent common occurrence on the bridge is what players have dubbed the lute and flute wars, where Sleeps will wake up to about a dozen players standing over him, lutes on one side and flutes on the other."
I happened to witness a lute and flute battle of the bands in one of my early days prowling the bridge from the sidelines. From the outside, it appeared coordinated. Now that I have a view from the inside of the guild’s chat, these situations seem to ebb and flow as players jump in to participate undirected and unannounced. The guild’s members, and Sleeps himself, are often bemused and entertained by how many other players choose to jump in and turn their small jokes into bridge-wide parties. The night I witnessed one such instrument battle, another player added their own accompaniment to the event by using the /yell command to serenade the entire region of Alinor with their all-caps rendition of Smash Mouth’s "All Star."
In my original search for Sleeps, I came across a couple players claiming that they used Crowns, ESO’s premium currency, to send cosmetic gifts to Sleeps-On-Bridges. He says that he was shocked by the generosity of fans, but that the best gift has been less tangible.
"This might sound cheesy, but the best gift I've gotten is other players' appreciation for this character. It gives me a really unique feeling of mutual acknowledgement. I've been in love with The Elder Scrolls ever since I first played Morrowind in 2003, and the amount of love that people show Sleeps makes me feel like he's my genuine tribute to Elder Scrolls and its amazing fanbase."
The kids are alright
Sleeps-On-Bridges spends multiple hours on his bridge each evening but on the rare occasion he’s absent, he is slowly chipping away at other goals. Sometimes he earns extra pocket money by completing crafting writs, other times he’s actually playing through ESO’s main quest content. After finishing the story missions in the recent Murkmire expansion, Sleeps-On-Bridges has begun displaying his new "Hero of Murkmire" player title. Despite his attachment to Alinor, Sleeps wants his fellow Argonians to know he hasn’t forgotten his roots. He does plan to visit Elsweyr, home of the Khajiit people, when the new expansion comes out this summer. He says he will investigate the bridges in the area but a permanent migration is unlikely.
After multiple weeks assimilating myself into the Bridge Sleeping Tribe and watching the impromptu scenes that unfold around Sleeps-On-Bridges, it occurs to me that new players to ESO may very well feel the same curiosity and fascination when passing by as I did years ago in Guild Wars. Sleeps-On-Bridges and his guild are likely inspiring the newest crop of MMO players to socialize and co-create in online spaces with their carefree community. It’s exactly the restoration of faith in humanity I was hoping to find hiding behind the opaque facade of a sleeping Argonian.