VBG: Smell-O-Gaming

Smell the roses

Most people play video games to escape from reality, to find release from the drudge and monotony of their painful, pointless lives – Heaven knows I do. There are others who would prefer video games to be more realistic, maybe because they want to impose the suffering of their own existence on others, or possibly through some misguided contentedness with life.

Birmingham University’s Professor Bob Stone is a such a man, although his reasons for wanting more realistic games appears to be noble (rather than inappropriate or sadistic). Professor Stone has developed technology that allows consoles to create “smell effects” during video games. His device is programmed to releases certain odours at certain moments during a game, taking advantage of the second-most “information-rich” of our senses according to the prof. His research isn’t being funded by Nintendo or Sony, but by the Ministry of Defence so that they can provide British soldiers-in-training with realistic practice scenarios for future military scenarios. The device is used in training games, creating smells that help the player making decisions in the game’s scenario. Examples scenarios include having to identify an improvised explosive, being involved in close quarters combat, and even picking up on triggers for post-traumatic stress disorder.

While its use for military training is certainly intriguing, and whether the technology would indeed function suitably for public use is certainly debatable – remember the doomed Smell-O-Vision? – there is a far more pertinent question that needs to be answered. Let’s ignore the sceptics who are cynically shaking their heads, and consider a reality where Professor Stone’s device is being made for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and all the other games devices. The question, then, is how would games actually smell? What smells would be created and released during our favourite video games? Well, ‘who really knows?’ you may say, but that isn’t going to stop me from postulating.

Cooking Mama (DS)

This game tasks players with preparing and cooking a variety of dishes. As anyone’s who tasted my cooking can vouch for, when it comes to food, looks can be deceiving. Smell is of course a far better indicator. Imagine if cooking a perfect garlic and parsley risotto in the game caused the DS to release the smell that the dish would in real life? The satisfaction would be immense, and it might even inspire you to go make yourself a real risotto – or more likely go to an Italian restaurant.

Flower (PS3)

Again, another game that would’ve been greatly benefitted by smell effects. It’s pretty simple; flowers smell nice, people like nice smells, ergo Flower would be better with smells.

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (PS3)

A bit more debatable. Some love the smell of burning rubber, grunting engines and, er, leather gloves. Others like to keep their windows closed when on the road. Still, you know that Polyphony Digital would be able to manufacture the absolute, exact smell for each car, each engine, and each tire, just to help the petrolnuts who get off on all that drool even more about the myth that is Gran Turismo 5.

Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3/360/PC)

Er, we’re getting into dubious grounds now. From what I can ascertain, New York – sorry – Liberty City wouldn’t smell all that great. Especially when you consider the things you’re getting up to in it. Personally, not a fan of the smell of dry blood on concrete, or the excrement beside it, and definitely not a fan of the variety of odours on offer in the broad spectrum of sexually transmitted diseases. Also, I’m pretty sure Roman would have terrible BO – one more reason to completely ignore him.

Gears of War 2 (360)

Okay, this is definitely a game I wouldn’t want to smell. The smell of chainsaw against flesh may entice some, just as the smell of the profuse sweat generated by grunting beefjacks in titanic armor may entice others. The sweaty frat-boy barbeque that is Gears of War 2 just doesn’t seem like it would be appealing to my olfactory sense.

Sadly – or maybe happily – Professor Stone believes that his technology won’t be used in home consoles for decades, at the least. Maybe by then there will be a few more games that will smell like Cooking Mama and Flower would, otherwise we’re all going to be loving the smell of napalm in the morning.

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