At the Game Developer's Conference this week, two different peripherals vied for the honor (I guess?) of being the first to introduce on-demand smells to mass market video gaming.
Both Sensory Acumen and Scent Sciences (who we checked out at CES) were showing off little boxes at GDC designed to pump out smells synced up with your favorite video game. The boxes contain cartridges of specific scents, and when you do something in a game that calls for a smell, the cartridge will spurt out a little bit of the appropriate scent.
There are lots of potential implementations of this technology, and it's not just for creating atmosphere. More importantly, smells can be used to convey in-game information. So with a driving game, for example, you could enjoy the smell of burning rubber and exhaust much of the time, with a little bit of burning clutch mixed in for good measure if you don't know how to shift properly. Or with a game that's more plot-driven, smells can be used to give you clues or reminders. Or say you're playing a first person shooter and you're stalking aliens down a dark hallway — a fresh waft of alien b.o. could clue you in to an ambush.
Both of the actual pieces of hardware appear to be functionally more or less the same. They're little boxes that are attached to your computer via USB or, in the case of Sensory Acumen's GameSkunk, your console via Bluetooth. Inside, they have replaceable cartridges of 10 or 20 different oils that release their scents when heated. The cartridges wouldn't add much to the cost of games, and they're good for months, while the units themselves cost between $60 and $70.
Smell-o-gaming may seem unnecessary, but you know what? So is 3D. It's all about adding an extra dimension to the entertainment experience, and smell, while perhaps not the next step, is still an inevitable step towards total sensory immersion.
Scent Sciences' ScentScape is available now, and look for Sensory Acumen's GameSkunk towards the middle of this year.