A sense of smell

smellSL is remarkable in many ways: To those of a previous generation, it could almost seem magical, whilst even for those of us who have have become accustomed to the ever changing technological arena, there is still something quite remarkable about a digital environment so capable at imitating so many facets of the real world.

The sights, sounds, colours and ambience of a summer meadow are readily replicated inworld; as the seasons change, we experience a change in SL too – that summer meadow becomes a wintry snowscape, so effectively rendered that we feel the need to wrap up warmly in our virtual scarves and gloves and experience an involuntary shiver as we log in.

The range of scenarios so convincingly presented to us in virtual form is breathtaking… A coastal sunset; a backstreet alleyway; a city restored to a bygone age; even the far reaches of outer space – each capable of capturing our imagination to such an extent that, immersed in the moment, we could easily be convinced that it was real.

SL is an object lesson in how our minds can be fooled by the simple expedient of manipulating our senses: sight, sound, movement and the tactile manner in which we engage with the virtual world combine to convince us that it is ourselves, not our avatar, that is exploring, dancing, shopping or any of the myriad other activities that we get up to inworld.

It’s very convincing, but even so, there’s one vital element that’s missing – smell.

I’ve heard it said that smell is the most evocative of all the senses. It certainly holds true for me – all I need is a whiff of a long-forgotten fragrance and I’m instantly transported to another time and place; a memory far more vivid than that evoked by a mere picture or sound. So often we can remain almost oblivious to the smells around us, yet they seep quietly into our consciousness, a background patina to life, ready to conjure up memories of when we first became aware of their presence.

And there are so many things in life that have their own distinctive and unique smell – railway sidings, wet dogs, street markets, Christmas, grandmothers, funfairs… Feel free to add your own. All of these really can make the moment, but of course, it’s something that’s completely absent in SL.

sock_001Just imagine walking through a flower meadow inworld and combined with the sunlight and soft shadows, and the background murmur of insects and birdsong, there’s a subtle waft of fragrance as you brush past the blooms. How much more would a walk along a beach in SL be enhanced by the tang of salt and seaweed to accompany the crash of waves and the calling of gulls. And how much more immersive would a journey through the badlands be if that downed plane filled the air with the smell of burning aviation fuel and maybe a sudden sickly whiff of blood?

We’re not going to see anything like that sort of functionality any time soon, if ever, in SL or anywhere else for that matter. Certainly there have been some attempts to create the technology, but it’s a long way from having that degree of flexibility that SL would demand. In any event, such things are only likely to become reality if there’s a real demand for them – like 3D TV, there may be little appetite for smellyvision in the real world, which would certainly rule out developing technology exclusively targeted towards virtual worlds.

To be honest, I’m not even sure that there would be any real demand amongst SL users either – so few are au fait with much of the extended functionality that already exists: windlight, ALM, experience keys, pathfinding and DOF, to name just a few; maybe added complexity isn’t what people want.

Even so, I think it would be awesome… So if there are any developers out there hankering to try this, and you’re looking for a beta tester, feel free to give me a call!

s. x

And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five
Senses working overtime
Trying to take this all in
XTC – Senses Working Overtime

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