As far back as we can remember, video games primarily utilized three senses: visual, auditory and tactile. As innovations continue to push the limit, so goes the number of senses we can activate in a virtual world. Believe it or not, the sense of smell is now being integrated into gameplay.
As debuted at GDC a few weeks ago, Sensory Acumen is in the process of patenting Game Skunk, an olfactory feedback device that will allow players to smell different scents in a game, enhancing the overall user experience. Game Skunk is designed to plug into a console or computer and emit scents from a cartridge based on specific environments and situations the player encounters within the game. Each game will come with a game-specific smell cartridge containing various aromas.
What kind of smells are we talking about? Well, in a racing game, if a player isn’t doing so hot, the smell of burning rubber will be strong. Another example is a zombie game, where a player could smell which way a horde of zombies are hiding based on a rancid, decaying odor in a particular direction and make his way around them. This type of feedback adds a whole new dimension to the game, immersing the player in a more memorable experience.
While having the ability to smell gasoline fumes and decaying corpses doesn’t sound like the most appealing form of entertainment, there are also practical benefits to engaging the sense of smell in a virtual environment. The USC Institute of Creative Technologies created Virtual Iraq, incorporating smell into the simulation to aid psychologists treating patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is known that smells can trigger emotion and evoke memory, and as patients become immersed in a life-like replica of their stressors, psychologists can help actively guide them through their fears at a pace that works for them, potentially leading them to recovery. Sensory Acumen’s Game Skunk device will also be able to serve this purpose, and the company advocates this health care aspect with “gamed skunk.”
Sensory Acumen plans to target all genres of games, including family, serious, action, cooking, and others, and will be available for purchase later this year. With applications in both serious games and those for fun, and especially now with the advent of 3D TVs, the possibilities of combining smell with interactive media are just beginning.