Considering the sheer number of things that have been tried in terms of perking up the gaming industry, it's not surprising that games might try different kinds of feedback beside the visual. Haptic feedback--feedback of touch--has been a major part of development for some time, but what about the other senses? Sure, aural feedback gets plenty of action, as does visual, but what about one of the more underappreciated senses: smell?
Recently, the NeuroGaming Conference and Expo featured some discussion on how best to get smell into gaming, so as to make it even more immersive than any generation of gaming since, well, the first, really. Sure, there have been attempts to do the job in the past with chemical packs and dispersers, but the folks at the NeuroGaming Conference and Expo want to step things up a notch to included digital devices that can add smell to games while playing.
In a sense, this sounds like a great idea; imagine the smell of brine in any of the Bioshock titles, for example. Throw high-octane fuel and rubber in a racing game, or pine in the forested RPGs. In others, not so much; care to hazard a guess as to what the Willamette Parkview Mall smells like? For those who don't remember their gaming landmarks, that's the mall from the original Dead Rising. Yeah, it smells like a combination of zombie, food court, sporting goods, psychopath and sweaty photographer. That's not exactly the kind of night-on-the-town scent that most discriminating ladies might care for. But by like token, there's a possibility here that scents can really perk up a gaming experience and add to that immersion quality that everyone's eager to get. About the only thing left would be taste, and trying to simulate tastes would be incredibly difficult.
Not that smells are that much easier; the idea of smell in gaming has been batted around before. The ScentScape plugin, for example, goes as far back as early 2011, but finding word about them after early 2011 is oddly difficult. Not a one was found on eBay, and an Amazon search turned up no luck either.
While the folks at the NeuroGaming Conference and Expo may have an ambitious idea on their hands, actually executing such an idea is going to be a tall order. Simulating smells can only be done in so many ways: chemical approximations or direct nerve stimulation are pretty much the only options. Trying to convince gamers to buy cartridges full of chemicals to approximate the smells coming from a game may be an even taller order unless these chemicals are particularly long-lived.
Still, you've got to give them credit for trying, and it's entirely possible that a new development could make it so that forest we walk through or that beach we walk along smells just like whatever it is we're in the midst of.