Project proposal: Simon Niedenthal

Creative Reinterpretations

Scents & Computers

Scented interactive media like the web games of DigiScents, Inc. have largely vanished from the internet despite archival efforts of the time, only leaving behind hints at what these experiences could have been. We propose producing a creative reinterpretation of one scented game from DigiScents, Inc.’s website and re-scenting a functional copy of TriSenx Holdings, Inc.’s SenxShip. These two games serve to illustrate the potential of historical research on personal scent technologies at the turn of the 21st century, and are meant to be experienced with smell. Both interpretations will leverage media archaeology conducted on the corporate websites alongside oral history research, and are intended to work with their original devices and a scratch-and-sniff card. We hope to conclude the production with a small traveling exhibition presented at spaces such as Mediamatic, Chicago Gamespace (Chicago, USA), or Babycastles (NYC, USA).

 

Names of everyone involved in the project

Jas Brooks & Simon Niedenthal 

We could also imagine involving other olfactory artists, designers and curators from our network at a later time.

Description of the project

Twenty years ago, at the height of the tech bubble, companies such as DigiScents, Inc. and TriSenx Holdings, Inc developed consumer technologies for outputting scent from personal computer peripherals (see Figure 2 and Figure 3). These olfactory displays delivered smell stimuli to complement online and other interactive material. The eventual high-profile demise of DigiScents Inc. became a cautionary tale for the entire dot-com era, but the conventional wisdom fails to capture the significance of the historical achievement of these companies. Both DigiScents and TriSenx were serious people doing serious work, exploring the relationships that people can have with a networked scent object, and figuring out meaningful product development and sensory evaluation processes to support interactive olfactory experiences. Application areas for these devices as originally conceived included entertainment and education, as well as informational and therapeutic aims. To explore these applications, both companies created demos in interactive and non-interactive media (see Figure 1 and Figure 3), defined scent palettes, and commissioned custom fragrances.

Media archaeology aims at conservation of historical artifacts and reinterpretation of their significance. Besides preserving rare devices and media from turn-of-the-century companies, we see value in critically reconsidering their technical and cultural meaning. Media archaeology calls into question inherited narratives of technological progress, and scent tech histories have a particularly apt part to play in this general effort. Often conceived of as a litany of failure, the history of mediated scent technologies can instead be reframed through archival research, oral history and prototype evaluation as a story of halting and incremental successes.

The significance of scent tech histories can be illustrated in relation to digital games. Conservation of legacy gaming consoles allows for a more authentic re-experiencing of historical titles in the original gameplay environment. Unlike vintage games, however, where cartridges and discs remain that can be played on different platforms, we still have no common platform for interactive olfactory experiences, and both the devices and scents designed two decades ago have now largely disappeared. This makes olfactory displays and their associated media an important target for recovery, as well as a fascinating site for artistic interventions that can reactivate their potential.

We see great expressive and utilitarian benefits in recovering and reactivating these devices and associated media, and in reconsidering their promise. What sort of scent vocabularies and experiences might have emerged had these devices taken hold two decades ago? In an era in which olfactory symptoms are the defining feature of a global pandemic, what would it have meant to have networked olfactory devices available in the home? How could pleasures, fantasies and therapeutic uses be supported by these earlier technologies? Besides reactivating existing media, we envision commissioning new olfactory works that could be “played” through vintage devices. This is the historical and creative space we intend to explore in our “Scent Tech Histories - Creative Reinterpretations” project.

This project is in alignment with Mediamatic’s commitment to exploring the body and the senses, as recounted in the 2021-24 mission statement. In particular, this project could engage planned activities in the Aroma Lab, and the ongoing lecture series Odorama. Finally, our effort to recapture the forgotten history of turn-of-the-century scent technologies and media by creating new scent experiences will complement the general approach of Mediamatic’s effort to “investigate how a story can be told with scent” in the Olfactory History Oosterdok exhibition. A further source of inspiration is the larger Odoeuropa project, with its emphasis upon sensory mining and reconstruction of historical scents through artistic reactivation.

We anticipate that this project will last between one to two years.

Imagery:

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Digiscents - DigiScents, Inc.’s Scentertainment portal originally included two web games potentially envisioned with smell. The first is  Scent Blaster! , which reads “Take aim with your newest Shockwave game. Blast your way through three levels of smelly delights.” The second is   Word Sniff , which reads “Sniff out   aromatic   words in our challenging and fun Shockwave word find.” No other information is left of both games. (a) Screenshot of the DigiScents, Inc. website courtesy of the Internet Archive’s… Simon Niedenthal

Figure 1: DigiScents, Inc.’s Scentertainment portal originally included two web games potentially envisioned with smell. The first is Scent Blaster!, which reads “Take aim with your newest Shockwave game. Blast your way through three levels of smelly delights.” The second is Word Sniff, which reads “Sniff out aromatic words in our challenging and fun Shockwave word find.” No other information is left of both games. (a) Screenshot of the DigiScents, Inc. website courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. (b) Reproduction of the Scent Blaster! logo.

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Inc.’s iSmell - Despite DigiScents, Inc.’s iSmell system not reaching market, the company produced an iconic (a, b) looks-like model (visual reference for final peripheral) and – more importantly – a (c) works-like prototype, which was fully functional and presented at electronics shows for audiences to experience (d). Simon Niedenthal

Figure 2: Despite DigiScents, Inc.’s iSmell system not reaching market, the company produced an iconic (a, b) looks-like model (visual reference for final peripheral) and – more importantly – a (c) works-like prototype, which was fully functional and presented at electronics shows for audiences to experience (d).

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TriSenx Shockwave gam - (a) TriSenx Holdings, Inc.’s Scent Dome in translucent blue. (b) Screenshot from the TriSenx Shockwave game that we dubbed  SenxShip   (c. 2005). The game was developed by The Dimension’s Edge, Inc. and is a simple scented version of   MacAttack   (1994) featuring a spaceship resembling the SENX Sampler or Scent Dome. If you scored 20 points, you would then experience one of the aromas from your device. (c) A model sniffing the aromatic output of her Scent Dome. Simon Niedenthal

Figure 3: (a) TriSenx Holdings, Inc.’s Scent Dome in translucent blue. (b) Screenshot from the TriSenx Shockwave game that we dubbed SenxShip (c. 2005). The game was developed by The Dimension’s Edge, Inc. and is a simple scented version of MacAttack (1994) featuring a spaceship resembling the SENX Sampler or Scent Dome. If you scored 20 points, you would then experience one of the aromas from your device. (c) A model sniffing the aromatic output of her Scent Dome.

Links to associated demo media

We include links to videos we have extracted from Shockwave files stored on the Web Archive’s copy of the TriSenx Holdings, Inc. website.

Gymini’s promotional song and scented music video I Got My Smell On, featuring George Clinton. https://youtu.be/fBDPv1dzN8c

ZAN’s scented music video Meadow Spirit.
A scented episode of Detective Nosy Nose and Friends, an educational video for children.

How much should your project cost? Give a brief explanation.

We intend to begin our work with an initial seed fund of 500, which will be used to for the following purposes:

  1. Location, purchase, restoration and shipping of scent tech prototypes and media.

  2. Material costs related to reproducing scents in different media, including Scratch ‘n Sniff

    cards.

Beyond these initial costs, we anticipate further expenses related to design consultancy, which could include both olfactory and game designers. For these costs we would actively seek sponsorship of larger fragrance and flavoring companies (such as IFF) that might also help cover materials and consultancy fees.

Possibly: how could you expand your project even further?

This project could be expanded on a number of dimensions. There are other personal olfactory devices for consumer use in the home that have come and gone over the years. Just as media archaeology of film shines new light on pre-filmic visual technologies, so we could also look past interactive technologies to pre-existing olfactory technologies such as Scratch ́n Sniff. Ultimately we would like to seek wider exposure of this work in a larger exhibition or book project.

 

This proposal is part of the 'Penny for your Thoughts' project 2021.