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GameScent: The Stink of AI

How much would you spend to be able to smell the things you can see on your screen? If your answer was a sensible “absolutely nothing”, you’re about $150 off. That’s exactly what GameScent is offering. And no, we don’t know why.

In the history of gaming, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a single tweet, forum post or opinion piece saying “Ya know what? It would be pretty cool to be able to smell this game”. There are probably plenty of uncomfortable exceptions – run the gamut from Catherine to Fat Princess – but nothing that has been spoken about out loud or with any kind of depth.

And yet here it is. And I guess the creators might be onto something, regardless of if they’re fulfilling a need or not, because my first reaction was that it’s a cool idea. I’m playing Final Fantasy 7: Rebirth, and the idea of the faint smell of the quaint village of Kalm transforming into the lush open grasslands of the overworld is undoubtedly an intriguing idea. Albeit one that nobody has ever asked for.

But that’s a targeted, directed experience. It’s smelling smoke as you come to in Nibelheim – before you see any evidence of fire. It’s enhancing the experience, rather than being about a kind of vague “immersion”. That buzzword is quickly becoming one of my least favourite, because it gets used to justify anything in the quest of blindly putting you into the game, whether it suits or not.

GameScent isn’t the thing I’m talking about above. It’s an AI driven six-scent box that releases odour based on sound. You can buy additional scents. And while it’s a neat gimmick, it is still only a gimmick.

GameScent – It’s In The Nose

The scents currently available are gunfire, explosion, racing, clean air, ocean, and forest. Others, like blood, napalm and fresh cut grass, will be available in the future. The device takes sound and uses AI to translate it to the correct nasal cue, although obviously there’s a football stadium sized margin of error there. Dead bodies on a freshly cut lawn with smoke billowing next to the ocean? That’s going to smell like the ocean. And frankly, that’s probably what I’d want it to smell like.

With that in mind, this feels like it’s something more for the AI bros than for gamers at large. There’s no great demand for what this product does, and no great effort to tailor the experience to specific moments. Of all the things that AI could be used for in the gaming space, this is fairly low down the list. Maybe, as time goes by, it’ll grow into something that’s a little more interesting. Maybe GameScent can even be part of that conversation.

And while I think this ultimately falls on its face, it is starting an interesting conversation. How can games better utilise our senses, and how can AI be part of that? I don’t expect either question to be answered for a long, long time. But, if nothing else, the future starts here.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott