A researcher at Stanford University is preparing to publish a paper outlining a system that provides scents in virtual reality. This development would not mark the first time scent has been used in video games and other media.
The Super NES game Earthbound in 1995 and the PC game Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail both included scratch-and-sniff cards to “experience” smells in the game. Later, Gran Turismo 2 and FIFA 2011 would release smellable disc labels. More recently, Ubisoft created the Nosulus Rift to be used while playing South Park: The Fractured But Whole to simulate the smell of farts but that is not being released commercially.
As you can see by the lack of odorific games we have today, these ideas never took hold.
The thought of incorporating smells into VR sounds just as gimmicky. Even though it would undoubtedly involve the use of a more sophisticated system than scratch-and-sniff, getting a whiff of burning rubber as you peel out in a VR game still seems just as trivial as it was in the '90s.
However, lead researcher Benjy Li out of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford tells Engadget that he sees it as more than just a gimmick used in games.
“The thing about VR is its ability to allow the user to feel he/she 'is there,' a phenomenon we call ‘presence.’ We see greater influence of VR when users report higher levels of presence. I can't divulge too much details since the paper is under review, but we found that adding the two senses [scent and taste] into the experience has an effect on human satiation.”
Li sees the device being used as a tool to treat various psychological conditions or to make certain unpalatable foods more appealing.
“What if one day we are able to show you in VR, a piece of steak, with the smell and scent that goes along with it, and you cut it up and feel its tenderness, and you enjoy every bite of it?” he said. “But in real life, it's made of plant-based ingredients.”
Inventions like the Vocktail show that his vision is indeed possible. However, I feel confident in saying that wearing a VR headset to dinner has even less chance of catching on than an electronic martini glass that shocks your taste buds.
Image via Digital Trends