Skin Games: Fragrant Play, Scented Media and the Stench of Digital Games

Simon Niedenthal


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This study presents an argument in favor of using multiple theory triangulation (Mäyrä 2009) as a means of generating design heuristics and gameplay scenarios for engaging the sense of smell in games. The disciplines that are drawn upon include sensory psychology, sensory anthropology, literature, interaction design and HCI research, and game studies. The physical and historical context of smell in games is sketched by considering the challenges of designing for the sense of smell, examining how different cultures have integrated smell into their lives and entertainment, analyzing the failures of scented filmic media, and surveying games in which smell has played a role: Leather Goddesses of Phobos (Infocom Inc. 1986) and Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail! (Sierra On-Line Inc. 1996). Rather than naïve immersion, in which smell merely confirms what is seen onscreen, this study seeks to root the future development of scented gameplay in Ermi and Mäyrä’s SCI model of immersion (2007), and draws upon design discourses related to the bodily and spatial uses of scent: perfume and incense. We can learn about how to effectively engage smell in games by examining the ways in which people have organized play around perfume and incense, from games that incorporate perfume themes (ranging from board games to Axe cologne advergames), to the playful behaviors of an online fragrance community ( The results of this study include general design heuristics for smell in games, as well as specific gameplay concepts for an existing digital game genre (survival horror), and a physical Scratch-and-sniff party game.


Game design, media design, smell, scented media, fragrance, perfume, incense

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