The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show has come and gone, and still no smell-o-vision inventor has stepped forward to wave the flag violently enough.
The next big thing in movies — once they figure out 3D — is probably going to be smell-o-vision and this will be pretty awesome, as long as you’re watching independent films about bakeries or pizzerias. Right now the only facsimile of smell-o-vision movies have is the smell of popcorn drenched in that awful liquid lard: how can people eat that? Almost anything would smell better than that.
Well, while I was probably wrong to initially say that 3D cinema was “worse than Satan”, I can safely say that I am pretty sure I will never, ever be able to get behind smell-o-vision-enabled films — or especially smell-o-videogames.
I just wracked my brain for 30 seconds, and came up with the following list of games I’m pretty sure would smell horrible. It was kind of a tricky exercise because I couldn’t think of a single game that wouldn’t smell horrible.
Every time I see a Welsh Corgi in the street, I think, “Man, what a gorgeous animal. What a fantastically designed sort of dog. Look at those little legs — look at that huge head. I hope the owner isn’t the type of psycho to yank the leash and pull the dog away when someone approaches hungry to pet that dog, because I am going to go pet that dog and I sure don’t want someone to make me feel bad about myself right now.”
And then I pet the corgi and I say “yay” a couple times, and I tell the dog he’s a good dog and the owner says “Yeah, he’s great”, and I say, “Yay, Tuffy!” and the owner says “His name is not Tuffy” and I say “Oh, sorry.” And then I say, “I’m going to get me one of these someday, and I’m going to name him Tuffy”, and the owner says, “Knock yourself out, pal” and then shuffles away.
Then, sometimes, I’m in someone’s house, and they have a dog or a cat and I’m suddenly like “Oh my god, I am so glad I do not have a dog,” or, “I’m definitely never getting one of these”.
The thing is, I like dogs when they’re not in my house. I like cats when I see them on the street: I’m like, “Hello there, cat!” and the cat is like “Meow!” and that feels like a valuable interaction. Then I’m in someone’s house and it smells like cat food and cat dump; or they have a dog and it smells like dog food and canine body odour. The floors can never be clean and the house will never really be yours. The walls are figuratively sweating with the butter-thick stench of beast. Your clothes are permanently sand-blasted with pet hair.
Pokémon is a game about collecting pets and making them fight each other. They probably sweat a lot. I bet Pikachu smells like guinea pig food heated up in a microwave — what with his being a rodent, and what with his being electric. Koffing probably smells like a freeway. You can probably get a sexually transmitted disease from breathing in a car with the window rolled down on a freeway. I really couldn’t want to smell Pokémon less.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim isn’t set in a “real” historical period, though it sure is set in a world that seems to be experiencing an era of time strikingly similar to the era of real Earth history when humans blew their noses on their clothes and defecated in stone pots on the floor at the foots of their beds.
You know the phrase, “Don’t shit where you eat”? Medieval humans shat where they drank water — I mean, like, in the same water. These are filthy people, many of them with stables connected to their houses: the typical villager’s window looks out on a horse’s butthole.
Maybe your biology teacher in high school had an iguana in a tank — how did such a little thing smell so bad? It smelled like a newspaper with reprehensible fact-checking errors and/or someone’s spiteful urine all over it. Dragons probably smell like that, only lodged sharply in the top of your throat, right at the richest, sweetest spot of the olfactory cavity.
Here’s a game set in a shopping mall, which means it already smells like a food court. However, everyone in the town has been dead or zombified for weeks, meaning it smells like rotten food court food. Well — now that I think about it, food court food probably can’t rot. If there were a massive fire in a food court, the helicopter pilots would know because of the pillar of green smoke (that’s a joke about food additives). Also cramming Dead Rising‘s shopping mall are literally tens of thousands of filthy, white-eyed zombies.
In zoology class in high school we had to dissect a cat — a cat which had been humanely put down at the humane society before making his involuntary posthumous carcass-donation to science. The dissection was a two-week ordeal. That lab smelled like a horror movie. It smelled like a fruit shop someone had filled halfway with vomit (and then allowed all the fruit in the shop to rot).
When we dissected a dogfish shark, the place smelled even worse — like rotting fish, dark chocolate, manure, urine and floor-cleaner. Sharks have five livers and no bladder (per se); as a shark decomposes, the high urine content of the bloodstream chemically breaks down into ammonia. So there’s that sting of industrial chemicals behind the smell of the world’s saddest candy, the world’s filthiest McDonald’s, and a farm on fire. It’s truly revolting.
Now, here’s the scary part: this is what carcasses smell like when preserved for two weeks in formaldehyde (I should add that formaldehyde-preserved carcasses also smell like formaldehyde, which smells roughly like a subway car late on Saturday night, if you have a scarf over your lower face). Formaldehyde lessens the intensity of the vapours that accompany decomposition.
So, in short: zombies smell like all that awful chemistry, and they also smell like people: dirty people who are dead and decomposing and rotting. Gloppy old fruit and fistfuls of maggots plopping into trash bags of filthy gasoline-soaked nappies and thrown-up blood and acid and vodka.
Have you ever been stuck near a homeless person on the bus? Zombies definitely smell a hundred times worse than that.
When smell-o-vision is standard, smell-enabled remakes of Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead and the original Resident Evils are games I will be sure to avoid.
Resident Evil 4
We’ve already established that zombies smell horrible. Well, the human-shaped shambling hateful things in Resident Evil 4 aren’t technically zombies — they’re people who, because of some viral infection, are insane with the love of stabbing or slashing someone who is not a victim of the same virus. All they want to do is kill you — or someone else like you. They have obviously abandoned all chores, and though they are dexterous enough to handle a machete or a scythe, something tells me they don’t care about using the toilet anymore. Their pants must all be heavy with the awful spoils of a cannibal buffet.
Dead humans smell bad — dead animals of any type smell bad — dead humans that have been processed by psycho-virus-infected humans and then toothpaste-tubed out into a pair of mud-stained burlap trousers no doubt smells worse.
I’m sure zombies don’t brush their teeth, and I’m sure the crazed psychos in Resident Evil 4 don’t brush their teeth, either. However, I’m sure they have a whole lot more stuff on their teeth, because they’re smarter and faster than zombies, and can use weapons. This adds up to them being generally luckier with their hunger, and therefore nastier of breath and more voluminous of dump. I definitely don’t want to smell this game, I tell you what.
It’s difficult to choose a place to start with this one. You might be immediately tempted to think that Pac-Man would smell like Las Vegas — the faint baked vapour of sweat and distant tobacco, the sight of green broken beer bottle glass on a side walk recalling a wisp of a memory of the odour of alcohol; the buzz and crackle of neon so electric and real that it fills the whole top part of your head and makes you (and keeps you, for a while) a little crazy.
Pac-Man is walls of electric blue and vanishing rewards of piercing white. It’s dripping with sticky audio Velcro. What are you? Where did you come from? How did you get here? Where is here? It’s a maze the only apparent exits of which are connected via some sort of teleportation voodoo: they exit into (and out of) each other. Ghosts are following you — then you reach a corner, the most vulnerable real estate, you take a pill and now you’re chasing them. It was, before, that they could eat you: now you can eat them.
What is this avant-garde disco labyrinth? Like many other early arcade hits, it is not a drug-inspired trip to The Dark Side: no, it is a shrugged-off window through the whole world’s soul and into The End Of The Universe. Pac-Man could very well be a true artistic metaphor for the imagery on the tip of the mind of a man in a coma: eventually, if you survive long enough, the game crashes into itself.
It’s like this: I had a friend who sometimes had seizures. She had maybe one or two seizures a year. She told me that most of the time, the seizures simply took her away and she was completely mentally gone for a while. However, one time — when she was in her early teens — a seizure seized her in a looser sort of way. “For a moment, before the seizure took away all of my senses, my right ear was filled with a terrible sound. It must have been the sound of every fibre of the auditory nerve having no idea where it was or what sounds it should be reaching out and touching.”
If they generated some sort of automatic procedure for enabling older games with smell-o-vision, most classic arcade games would generate the olfactory equivalent of that white noise on a hot tin roof. I suppose that would be one of those phantom smells (like burning pillows or melting rubber) which appears within the nose during a dream — only cranked up to eleven.
Super Mario Bros
As Twitter user (and my former Indiana University Forest Dormitory neighbour) @nate_goss points out, The Mushroom Kingdom “has to smell like human waste all over the place”, with “all the open sewer pipes in it”. More than this — it also smells like mushrooms. Mushrooms smell like dirt and rot. Tell me there’s not an uglier, scarier form of life than a fungus — well, except for crabs, which are conveniently all over the place in Mario Bros., a game about crabs and turtles in the sewer.
I’m sure someone out there could make me believe they don’t think crabs are disgusting, though do you want to smell them and human feces at the same time?
And turtles — have you been to someone’s house where they have a pet turtle? Their whole house smells like a drunk. Then there are the underground stages — black background and blue bricks and green pipes: those places are hot and sweaty and probably as well-ventilated as a refrigerator. It probably smells like what’d happen if you took a dump in a crock pot full of cod liver oil and let it simmer for twelve hours.
At its least offensive, when you’re in an near-dark castle of white brick, the sewage pipes for the most part nonexistent, Super Mario Bros. is all glowing red lava. Guess what? Lava doesn’t smell very good, either! It smells even worse than burning rubber. It’s a cupcake-dense sort of smell — and very hot and strong — and it fills up your whole head and stomach with its steam even if you try to hold your breath.
If Super Mario Bros. were smell-o-vision enabled, you wouldn’t be able to make it past world one. And hey! Neither would I.
Gears Of War
Gears of War probably smells exactly like Super Meat Boy slammed into Earthworm Jim, except with more gunpowder and body odour. Someone once said that “war never changes”, and that may very well be true. In Gears of War, the world is one big war. It can be said, then, that Gears of War never changes.
A central question in any Gears of War player’s mind is: what are these guys eating, to get so huge? Their planet is a charred wasteland that no doubt stinks of sulfur and hot water and chalkboards.
In the world of Gears of War, the people could use dead bodies for carpeting — if the pace of their self-defending, gun-hugging, sick-with-fear lives ever slowed to a pace conducive to pondering on interior decorating. Everywhere you go are flies swarming around rotten-meaty piles of death, and moths flapping toward suicide in the flames of a burning oil barrel. Do the people eat insects? I’d say so; I’d also say that it’s possible that, what with how much ammunition is on hand and how many locust mutant freak-jerks there are popping up all over the place, it’s possible they’re eating the dead locust.
Now, I’ve deduced through life experience that people who live primarily on corn chips and Pepsi are oily of skin, sweat profusely when doing even mild physical activity (arithmetic, et cetera), and tend to smell like The Only Thing The Firefighters Found. This means two things: that the Modern Warfare games smell awful (especially the parts taking place in hot climates (eww)), and that Gears of War smells worse.
With nary a toilet in sight, these sweaty, odorous psycho-mutant-humanoid and psycho-mutant-insect-beast-flesh-eating beef marines are dumping either on the cracked asphalt or in their tight, rough pants. I’ll say it’s more often the latter: let me tell you something: a little-discussed perk of training marathons is this: during a long-distance race, When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Go. Yes, I mean you urinate in your pants while running a marathon. No one thinks twice about it. You’re not just going to pull over and go on the side of the road. You’re not going to look for a port-a-loo. I tell you what: once you’ve just run 20km, the last 14 is easy, though also spent entirely in a state of free-headedness wherein, if you stop, you will not start again.
If you stop, you may very well pass out into a week-long coma. So you go in your pants. You just go all over. You’re already sweating so much that it won’t look weird to anyone. And I tell you what: somewhere around kilometre 20, something happens inside your biochemistry, and your body odour takes a hairpin turn. In an instant, it’s no longer something you don’t even notice: no, my friends, suddenly, your sweat stinks of wet, sloppy dog food. Urine can’t even penetrate that stench. So, there’s that and there’s Gears of War, with its rotten meat carcasses of mutant brutes with skin the colour and texture of porridge and internal organs that are probably already green when they’re alive.
There’s acid rain on cracked asphalt — a smell about as solid as coughing orange juice out of your nose. When you’re a linebacker-sized sociopathically fearless marine with his back to a brick wall, chain-gun bullets whizzing over his head, the screaming terrorism of death invisible on the other side of the field, and the safety of the human race on his mind, when you have to go, you’re just going to go. You’re just going to let it all out, and then you’re going to keep fighting until you finish the fight.
That’s the kind of game experience I like — a game which is all gunpowder and petrol, where I can imagine that my guy is so mentally focused on the action (just like I am!) that he’d crap in his trousers without a second thought. Nathan Drake would steam in his jeans. I bet you a hundred dollars he would. He’s that kind of guy: he’s not afraid of death, though he doesn’t want to die, and he knows he needs to be on top of his game. He’d park a bus in the seat of his pants while hanging from his fingertips on a rock ledge waiting for a guard to get into prime throat-slitting position.
Naked Snake in Metal Gear Solid 3 eats so many ice-cold just-caught river-fish that he’s got to be crapping constantly during those long stake-outs hiding in cardboard boxes. I just can’t get my head into any sort of game where I can’t imagine the hero as a person who wouldn’t even ask “How hard?” if you said “Dump.”
So, at the end of the day, maybe that’s why I am so opposed to smell-o-vision.