What does Half-Life smell like?


Of the traditional five senses, only sight and hearing are catered for in a major way by video games. Recently rumble and motion control have brought a slight tactile element to gaming, but we’re far from experiencing the kind of virtual reality depicted in films or novels.

Although our sense of smell is relatively weak and underused compared to most other species, it can still be one of the most evocative and sensual, especially if you believe that everything the perfume industry says is true.

It can also be a powerful catalyst for nostalgia, as author Vladimir Nabokov once said, “Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.”

Whilst researching for this blog post I found a news story from just last month that had completely passed me by. According to the BBC, at Birmingham University, Professor Bob Stone and his team are working on ‘ScentPallete’, which is a device that generates synthetic smells by blowing high pressured air onto paraffin waxes.

Although the technology is currently being developed with military applications in mind, as a way of letting soldiers in training familiarise themselves with battlefield smells, a partnership with gaming hardware, and thus the advent of Smell-O-Gaming, certainly isn’t out of the question.

“We’re getting a lot of interest from games companies and games magazines around the world,” says Prof. Stone. “I think within the next five years we’ll see maybe smaller versions of this delivering specific smells for specific games.”

Cooking Mama was specifically mentioned as an example of a game where scents would benefit the player, allowing them to smell the ingredients and products of their cookery. In that spirit, let’s examine what scents you might associate with different games.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker – A fresh sea-breeze
Shadow of the Colossus – Dusty earth
Bioshock – Seaweed and saltwater
Ico – Damp stone
GTA: Vice City – Gasoline, sunbaked sand and cologne
Mirror’s Edge – Disinfectant
The Darkness – Urine and old newspapers
Portal – Electrical short circuit
LittleBigPlanet – Wool
GTA III – Cigar smoke
Fallout 3 – Toxic Waste
Jet Set Radio – Aerosols
Final Fantasy VII – Hair Gel
Silent Hill – Rusting metal
Mario Galaxy – Pick n’ Mix
Metroid Prime – Plastic and Carbon Dioxide
Mario Kart – Bananas and burning rubber
Nintendogs – Canine faeces
God of War – Fresh Medusa blood
Assassin’s Creed – Hay
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island – Cotton Wool
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker – Tears of children
MotorStorm – Mud
Wii Fit – Sweat
WarioWare – Garlic
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee – Raw meat
Flower – Flowers…

I’m sure that you can think of many more gaming experiences that could be enhanced with some nasal stimulation. So I’ll leave you with the thought: What does Half-Life smell like?