Wake Up and Smell the Kobolds

Has there ever been a consumer entertainment gimmick more maligned than “Smell-O-Vision?” While the prospects of such a device are at the very least interesting, bringing the technology to market has been a struggle ever since the invention of the feature film. Countless have tried to enhance the experience of watching a movie or a show, only to be deterred by surprisingly basic problems such as the excessive volume of scent needed to dust an entire theatre and the potential of triggering allergic reactions.

Perhaps the solution, then, is to make the experience more personal? San Jose-based Scent Sciences seems to think so with their upcoming ScentScape device, a small, plug-and-play doodad that, when matched up with a compatible piece of entertainment, is capable of releasing a combination of appropriate smells from a refillable cartridge. While the ultimate dream for ScentScape is no doubt to be used far and wide, the company is focusing their initial efforts on a surprising audience: not the traditiona moviegoers or couch potatoes, but gamers. Not have we been assaulted like this since Earthbound came packed with foul Scratch-N-Sniff cards!

One of the first promotional pictures unmistakably shows a World of Warcraft sticker pasted on the device. It’s not entirely shocking;¬†WoW, being as popular as it is, has been used to showcase any number of other wacky PC peripherals, but it makes us wonder just how much say Blizzard has in this development. It could be nothing more than your typical use of a well-known property for publicity, but what if ScentScape ends up being the real deal?

Well, quite simply, smell is one of our most powerful senses. Not only is it a large component in our other sense of taste, but it’s also the one tied closest to memories. And just as there are both good and bad memories, there are both good and bad smells — part of the reason why the tech has been so hard to market in the past.

At a proposed $70 MSRP when it releases late this year, ScentScape is priced in the realm of an impulse buy for the curious and well-off, but proving its worth to the consumer is going to be the hardest part. As noted above, smell is a key component of true immersion, but I think there does come a point when we need to maintain a comfortable distance from the media that we enjoy. Sure, soaring over Grizzly Hills as the fragrance of freshly-cut timber tickles your nose might actually be really cool and relaxing, but then what do you do about, say… the Plaguelands (or worse, a Moonkin, as per the promo shot).

Of course, the solution is in the hands of those that create the software and tell ScentScape what smells it needs to release. It would be easy to say “only use it when you’re sniffing something pleasurable,” but then you’d only get part of the experience, and where’s the point in that? Why bother when you’re only going to half-ass it? Personally, it intrigues me, and I’d love to play around with it, but I’m not sure that the “smell experience” will ever have a permanent place in my house, or those of any others, for that matter.