Engineers at the University of Birmingham are working on a new "smell effect" system that they hope will introduce a whole new level of immersion into videogaming.
The team is working on a system that uses aromatic paraffin wax placed into a boxed fan which is then connected to a PC and triggered by in-game events. But rather than gingerbread or mulberry vanilla, this wax features scents like "burning cordite," "racetrack rubber" and even "body odor."
"Smell is the most underrated sense, but next to vision is the most information-rich one we have," said Professor Bob Stone, who's heading up the "serious game" project. Development of the smell device is being funded in part by the U.K. Ministry of Defense, which wants to use it for military training sims, but it is currently being tested by students at the university through "self-made" games using the Half-Life and Far Cry SDKs. The team eventually wants veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to become involved in the process in order to ensure the scents are as realistic as possible.
"It's a way of capturing feelings," said Mark Blyth, a PhD student and former member of the Royal Navy. "Sometimes people have a sense that something is wrong, but we have to find out how they know that. Is it smell? Is it someone running through the marketplace? Is it the silence? If smell is one of the main factors then there is a lot of scope for this to be used to help train soldiers' noses."
At only $25 the scent device is relatively low-cost so bringing it to the commercial market should be relatively painless. On the other hand, do you really want to smell the poo soup you're treading through the next time a game drops you into a sewer level? I think that's a level of immersion I could live without.