A futuristic urban landscape complete with mile-high skyscrapers, flying trains, outdoor elevators and passageways looms behind a young man dressed in space-age clothing. He gingerly handles a glass ball with an alphanumeric identification symbol etched on its side. After careful examination, he splits the ball open, releasing a school of tiny bulbous spores that float out of the ball and into the boy’s nose. These spores find their way into his cranial cavity and burrow into the fleshy walls of the young man’s brain. He has been probed by the future, enabling his body to define an environment for himself and to allow him to experience interaction with all five senses without any sort of interfacing with a physical environment.

It isn’t so much the technology that defines the future, but rather what can be done with the technology. From the beginning of interactive entertainment, to the very essence of the industry we know today, there have been technological advancements that have garnered the support of gamers. It’s the driving force behind the industry: innovation. But throughout the years of mainstream gaming, our experiences have been restricted to three of the five human senses. We view gaming pleasure through our eyes, we hear gaming pleasure through our ears and we control gaming pleasure with our hands (and feet, if you’re bold enough to do so).

So, what about the two dormant senses otherwise neglected in the world of gaming? We live in a visually oriented world, where the vast majority of our attentions are focused on what we can see. Most of us have become so accustomed to the dominance of visual stimuli that we don’t really think about it anymore. We take it for granted that most of the information we use to understand our world comes though through our eyes. It’s normal to us. But our other senses may be languishing.

It’s All In the Nose
Smell is one of our most powerful senses. It’s directly connected to the part of our brain that processes memories and emotions. In the future, as the technology becomes available, the possibility of including unique and environment defining smells into any gaming experience would open up a new level of immersion that is otherwise unachievable with typical sensory interaction. Imagine strolling through an adventure game, a detective on the trail of a notorious mob boss, when you come to a typical dark, desolate alley. Only, the alley comes to life as you smell the trash left behind, its fate set to rot before the mist. As you move down the shadowed corridor, you gather a whiff of gun powder and know you’re heading in the right direction.

Ok, so maybe the idea of smelling garbage isn’t too appealing, but it’s an immersion factor that can be tailored for nearly any environment and any situation. It triggers an emotional response, calling upon personal memories and adding a level of depth that alienates the player from reality and sets them into a world defined by their thoughts, their memories and the environmental intentions of developers. And that is, after all, the purpose of video games – to take the player outside of reality and into a world where there are no worldly restrictions.

Taste the Digital Rainbow
Directly linked to smell is taste, as both taste and smell interact with each other to better define the other. There have been a number of discussions over the course of the previous few years claiming that gaming has reached a point at which innovation can no longer be achieved, as everything has already been accomplished in one form or another. Adding the ability to actually taste within a game adds an entirely new realm of possibilities that have yet to have been explored.

In the past, a slew of “tycoon” games found their way onto the market and offered gameplay revolving around everything from amusement parks to pizza artistry (because it’s become politically incorrect to simply make pizza; it’s now an art). But what if the object of a game was to perfect a taste, or provide a variety of tastes to achieve a certain goal? Envision the possibilities of crafting in certain role-playing games, where you are given the ability to create herbal remedies and the like, but the only way to make sure they’re perfect for consumption is to taste them yourself. No longer would you simply rely on game mechanics, but also your own intuition and the millions of taste buds that instruct you on what tastes identify with what materials. It may sound like nothing more than a simulation or some sort of scientific experiment, but in the end it adds a level of realism to a game’s experience, while not decreasing imaginative value.

Touching is Good
As the potential of our senses are pushed beyond what is thought possible, the manner in which we already utilize them will be seen in a separate light. At this point in time, our sense of touch is the control element for gaming, but its prospective attributes shroud our current realization of gaming and offer an endless amount of possibilities. We don’t feel games, we control them. We press buttons and we move analog sticks to achieve a desired effect. There is no immersion, other than being the controlling factor of the events unfolding before your eyes and ears, and for some this is enough. At some point in the future, however, this will fail to entice and a higher level of immersion will come into play. Virtual reality has attempted to eliminate the need to touch, and institute the need to feel, but has not garnered a wide acceptance among gamers due to a number of pressing controversies, namely the price it costs to operate a virtual reality simulation.

As technology advances, controllers and input devices will inevitably cease to exist and one will be subjected to the game’s nature through the sense of touch. Our imagination will come into play and our experiences will define our environment. Imagine the ability to overcome the need of controllers and use your mind to not only control your interactive destiny, but also feel it. It is typical of horror games of the day to induce fear through shock factor, but with a more expressive method of touch, a more fearful method of fright is capable. Place yourself in a dark corridor, a hallway of sorts, with doors on either side of you. As you begin to traverse to your hidden fate, you feel something brush against your arm, raising the hairs on your neck until they stand on end. You are genuinely scared, but at this point you need to remind yourself: It’s only a game.

Scientists have only just begun to unlock the mysteries of the mind, and as time passes, gamers will get a hold of their knowledge and exploit it to provide new entertainment value to their passion. Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact. Gaming will evolve with technology and each of our senses will be shown equal attention. Prepare yourself for total immersion, as your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and “touch receptors” receive digital acceptance in tomorrow’s interactive entertainment.

Escaping the Box: Innovation and Genres

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