The Smell of Fear
I've been playing Diablo 3 for a right good span of days -- and thoroughly enjoying it -- but the other night I realized it was missing
something, and missing it sorely: the sense of smell.
It dawned on me as I was making my way through one of the slightly more disturbing levels of Tristram's famous cathedral. My barbaric
warlord of a character was embroiled in violent tussles with the denizens of this unseemly catacomb, battling corpulent monstrosities in
hand-to-hand combat. Upon defeat, these foul beasts exploded, ejaculating noxious fumes, caustic ichor, and fully grown imps -- imps who
immediately set upon me with their fangs and claws.
The three tiny hellspawn that vomited forth from his gut were decidedly hideous, but their appearance alone was not enough to cause even a
modicum of fear in my heart. To be honest, I didn't even feel disgust, despite the fact that these little creatures were covered in bile
from a swollen undead stomach. And, seeing as I was fighting against beasts that should make a mortal man such as myself cower in a corner, I
decided that the game simply was not doing what it needed to do to make me afraid. Because, let's face it, when I journey to the world of
Diablo, I am hoping to fight in a world so horribly mangled by evil that my notion of self-preservation should compel me to run screaming from
every fight I ever endeavor to win.
And yet, Diablo instills not a speck of fear in me.
But what if those demons reeked? What if they stank to the High Heavens? What if they smelled of rot, of death, of acids and pollution and
corpses and fungus and putrescent piles of poop?
Think of the reaction you have when you open the door of the refrigerator and a foul musk assails you from the unused drawer near the bottom.
Think of the the little puff of murderous air that blasts your face when you tighten the drawstrings of a garbage bag too swiftly. Think of
the permeating odor of a long-dead vermin trapped behind your washing machine. Think of the long breath you try to hold as you use a bathroom
recently vacated by an individual most enamored of baked beans.
Now, imagine if those same scents oozed from your computer as you battered your way through Diablo's demonic host. No longer is the
corpulent bubble-demon just a cleverly designed foe with an ineffectively offensive countenance: now he is a foe that makes you retch and
heave. You flee from his presence like a kitten running from a vacuum. In your headlong flight, you draw too near a fiery baneling who leaks
sulfurous odors. Your eyes water with the pain of the smell, and you stumble away, clutching your nose and mouth. Blindly, you draw near a
lumbering hulk with four bludgeons where his hands should be; as he raises his club-fists to strike you down, his armpits release the most
pungent B.O. you have ever been unfortunate enough to inhale. (I mean, how is he supposed to wash himself when he has hammers for hands?) It
is as if you were trapped in a small room with your entire phys-ed class after they had avoided showering for a week; you are incapacitated by
the reeking smell, and fall to your knees clutching at your guts and trying desperately to vomit your insides onto the floor.
As the killing blow descends, the other creatures swarm around you. Even before you are crushed into a patina of blood and bone, your soul
volunteers itself to the unknown beyond: it would rather leave your corporeal form than endure another millisecond of the rancid stench that
billows around Diablo's army. As your senses fail, you smile one last pathetic smile, blissful of the fact that you shall never again have
to inhale through a mortal nose.
In conclusion, video games need smell. They have sight and sound and feel, but to truly immerse a person, games need something that cannot be
ignored, something that can touch us below the level of conscious thought. Then games will stop being games and start being experiences, and
we will all start shitting our pants with fear. And then the smell of yourself will make you wonder what is reality, and what is just a game.