Role of Smell and Taste in Games

Matt Barton's picture

I was just thinking that gaming is the most sensual of all forms of all creative expressions save tribal dancing. It incorporates sight, sound, and touch. Tribal dancing and mystical ceremonies, of course, incorporates smell (burning torches, incense, etc.) and possibly taste (alcohol, herbs, feasts, delicacies, etc.) It seems to me that some interesting game ideas open up if you allow for taste and smell. How could game designers make games that utilized smell and taste?

Smell seems to be right around the corner. Consider The Scentscape. Imagine crawling through a dungeon and smelling the reassuring aroma of your burning torch. Imagine really being able to smell that famous "napalm in the morning," or the exotic flowers and plants in games like Riven. I don't imagine many people would want to smell rotting corpses, but I suppose that could be done, too, just to add to the horror. This could, of course, become part of the gameplay in adventures and such--an "aroma puzzle." Or it could heighten the feeling of immersion if you could smell a creature before you could see or hear it!

What about taste? This one seems trickier to me, though perhaps could become a lucrative industry. I could see something like "flavor packs" for individual games, with instructions to eat and drink various substances as you play. This can be done on your own, of course, such as swilling your favorite ale in real life as your character does in the game. Or you could provide some small candies, perhaps gourmet-flavored jelly beans. These are already available in unbelievable flavors, so it could probably suffice for just about anything you'd want in a game. Drink a potion; eat that flavor jelly bean or swig that little vial of energy drink. Hell, why wouldn't food companies want to get in on this, providing licensed goodies. You could make it more fun by not identifying the flavors; just stick them in numbered compartments. "Eat Jelly Belly #25." Maybe figuring out what that taste is supposed to be could be part of the gameplay. I wonder if this has ever been done by a major game company as anything other than a joke?

Would smell or taste make for a better game? I think they could be a lot of fun, and fun is what most games are after, right? So why not?

Comments

clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
Did Sentscape ever come

Did Sentscape ever come out?
http://www.scentsciences.com/ScentScape.pdf

I remeber they said they would have a WoW cart for it.. (much like you say, jungel, burning pitch, forest smells depending on where you whre in the game world).. I think that is why we never saw it.. carts (it had cartridges) for specific games.. Now taste.. I'm not sure that would be needed.. when do you really taste in a game? You mention makeing the game tailor to the tastes.. i think that is where modern gameing is failing with the new controls.. the controls are not used when usefull but forced into use in many games just to use them.. I dont want that. Besides.. sitting playing a game is already making us fat.. feeding us while playing doenst sound very good :) thouhg its actually an interesting idea.. I like ALE idea :) i have already did that in WoW and other MMORPGS.. drank my ale in Real life as we sat and BS'ed over voice in game taverns.. :)

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Scentscape looks like exactly

Scentscape looks like exactly what I had in mind! Thanks for posting that, Clok. Man, you guys are so much more aware of this stuff than I am! It looks like they're taking pre-orders for $70. I edited the OP so I wouldn't look like an ignoramus. :)

I'm guessing they'd need a helluva proof of concept game to get this project rolling. If it was just a gimmick, I don't think it'd sell. You'd need a gameplay concept that was really fun and absolutely depended on the scentscape to work. Again, I'm thinking of an adventure game--you could have puzzles based on smells.

As far as eating goes, of course it could be stuff with zero-calories. Just there for taste, not actually getting a meal. I can't see getting fat from just eating a few jelly beans! Of course, some people would no doubt rip open all the compartments and gorge themselves on everything. Maybe they could take a page from the old "journal entries" and stick a few really, really DISGUSTING tasting beans in there just to punish people who refuse to follow the instructions.

I just had another thought. I've heard that Pac-Man was popular with girls because girls like to eat. Probably a silly thing to say, but who knows? Maybe girls would really like games that involved eating little jelly beans and matching up the tastes and scents some way.

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Paul H
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Joined: 10/11/2011
Speaking of unusual sense accessories...

There's a company that makes ambient lights and there were apparently versions that also have fans to simulate environmental conditions. The fan could be really cool for racing games or simulating gusty winds when your character is up on a mountain.

http://www.cyborggaming.com/prod/ambx.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambx

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gilgamesh
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Joined: 03/02/2012
Leather Godesses of Phobos

sounds familiar :-D

Rowdy Rob
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Joined: 09/04/2006
Poor history of "smell-o-vision", possible legal hurdles.

If I recall correctly, movies as far back as the 1960's had experimented with "smell-o-vision" technology. I'm not sure, but I think it was indeed called "Smell-O-Vision." At certain points of the movie, an appropriate scent was pumped into the theater, then a chemical agent was pumped in the air to counteract the scent (presumably for the next "aroma" scene).

Most theater attendees found the experience unpleasant, and many got nauseous from the experience. It seems people are much more affected by our sense of smell than we realize. Even an otherwise pleasant odor, such as flowery perfume, is utterly gag-worthy when concentrated! How would a videogame control the "dosage?" The possibility of illness could spur lawsuits and such.

I think I recall that one of the last "Spy Kids" movies had scratch & sniff cards for theater-goers. At appropriate times, you scratched the appropriate spot on the card. That might seem low-tech, but something like that might be safer and more cost-effective to include with a game!

As for "taste" games, most foodstuffs are generally perishable and must be properly transported and stored. This is probably not something a software distributor wants to deal with. I could absolutely see licensed foods, like WoW-approved potion drinks or such. "Eat your energy pill now!" the game will tell you as you pop open a pack of "Pac-Pellets." But designing a game from the ground up with specialized foods would probably require a merchandising deal, which means risk (if the game flops, I have a warehouse full of "Grimrock Snail Meat" I can't sell!).

Yes, it's all cool ideas, but in our litigious and profit-oriented society, these ideas are probably not seen as new frontiers for gaming so much as new avenues for financial loss.

Shawn Delahunty
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Joined: 08/01/2011
Maybe only in certain games

As Rob points out, "they" have fooled with this kind of thing for about 40-ish years. Nobody has gotten it even close to where it needs to be from a technical standpoint. The last "Big Attempt" I remember was during the dot-com period, and the company had a series of "oil pots" that they could mix & blend on the fly. The 6 or 7 "basic smell oils" would be pumped together in various micro-litre amounts across a heating element--a fan would waft them away from the monitor towards the user. The fellow hyping the thing compared those 6-7 oils to the "Red-Blue-Yellow" base primary colors of an artist's palette. I think they even had a showing at one of the big tech shows--I remember reading about it in a magazine, maybe PC World.

I just cannot foresee this ever becoming a big thing. Even if I wanted it, it would only be for slow-paced, contemplative games like Myst and Riven as you mentioned. Smell the sea, smell the flowers, smell the pine-woods, smell the oil & iron of the "Metal Age", etc. For a fast-paced game, I just don't ever expect it to 'work'.

Now the jelly-bean/taste idea? I actually can see that going big, in a kid's game, if the marketing mind-manipulators would target it correctly. Do some kind of animated movie tie-in where the hero characters eat "flavored power pellets" to beat the baddies? You could could sell the things by the metric ton. Of course, little kids will eat anything sugary, so there's no burning need to even tie it to "playing the game".

My 2-cents.

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Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
There's probably some way to

There's probably some way to incorporate taste and smell that will be like this eventually--

"What??? How could they not know that??? It's so blatantly obvious! Wish I had thought of that...!"

I mean, wasn't that long ago when people thought it was ridiculous that you'd ever need a display device for your computer.

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clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
If any of yuo have been to

If any of yuo have been to Epcot (disney) the exxon back in time ride does this excellent.. it smells smokey (lava), jungle like.. i was very impressed by it as a kid.. nowday, not so sure.. But at the time, it helped imerse me in that ride. I must admit I doubt I wouold buy it, but it looks like it might be kinda fun to check out.

Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
I've been thinking along the

I've been thinking along the lines of...when do we really enjoy or find useful our sense of smell and taste?

Smell has lots of uses--clok mentioned smelling smoke. Smelling gas, gunpowder, etc. I could imagine a detective game where you can smell a vial and determine what kind of poison it is. I've read some Agatha Christie novels, and she makes a point of describing the smell of the poison--IIRC, anything that smells like almonds is bad, bad, bad!

Smell & taste are closely related, so they say.

We probably get the most satisfaction from taste by eating, of course. That's highly pleasurable, and I think we also enjoy playing with our food!!! Thus, Mama's classic "Don't play with your food!" They even make PlayDoh for kids that smells just like sweets...Not sure why, since they're not supposed to eat it! But hey...just going with the idea of playing with food. Anyway to make a videogame with that?

Work with me here a bit...so you get a 3D printer--those have been coming down in price. Then you have a game where you're building stuff; minecraft maybe. If you get it right, you can print your creation--and then EAT IT! That sounds like a real winner to me.

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clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
its funny as a kid my sister

its funny as a kid my sister (1 year younger then me) had an easy bake oven and a thing to make candy (very gummie bear like) back in the late 70's that i loved.. makeing a game where you could eat the stuff is kinda interesting in a "relive it" way. Nowdays i think to much like an adult.. " i dont want to eat somthing anybody has touched" how long has it been in that box, how many calories.. :) not to mention the fact a 40 somthing guy is giggling eating a castle he made out of some edible stuff and his knights and orce sar fighting on the walls. I couldnt do that with other people present.. :)

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