Heather Kelley's picture

DAY 2: October 29, 2013

The presentation today by Rosa Robinson (@Rosa_R) got my team thinking about the relationship of social change to the senses – and for me it was particularly our sense of smell, since that’s the one I’ve been learning about and working with lately. We know that exposure to natural things and places has a healing effect on the human psyche. So, to what degree does smell play a part in that recuperation? And how can we bring it into playful experiences? It doesn’t seem adequate to simply take an otherwise completely digital experience and “add smell” (say in the form of a perfume substance) and claim that now it’s healthier. But on the other hand, there is new evidence that calming smells really do lower our stress. So maybe a “fake” smell can have “real” effects and I shouldn’t discount that possibility.

Image of Cardiff fish market courtesy of

During our brainstorming, our first idea was for a multi-sensory experience that was trying to make the player more aware of all their senses with a kind of synesthesia mix-up. Images, sounds, and smells of one place would be jumbled with that of another. For instance the smell of a forest with the sound of a beach and the image of a city. Would this jolt to the senses allow people to think more about what they see hear and smell around them every day? What if some of the senses were eliminated from the experience? Would they then be missed, or identified at all? Could this exercise help players reconnect? In the end we realized that this big idea would simply be too difficult to stage within the context of one hack week, and we moved on to other concepts. But it’s worth thinking about for future work.

Another idea might be a street game that asks players to go out and “collect” certain smells by identifying locations where that smell is present. The baking bread of a shop, or the stench of a garbage can could be equally valuable in that context. The main point would be to resensitize citizens to their smellscape, and perhaps come to realize that as much as light and sound pollution are the downsides of our urban environments, the materials and textures of the city are affecting our happiness and well being in constant, low-level, but important ways.

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