I tried the GameScent so you don't have to and, trust me, you don't want to

GameScent promo image - GameScent device farting odours into the air
(Image credit: GameScent)

I don't generally like to dump on new products, even when they're not great. A lot of effort, money, and dreams go into designing and creating them, and even when they don't live up to their promise I try to respect that process—that someone believed in what they were doing enough to see it all the way through to the end. Sometimes, though, circumstances force me to make an exception.

With that said, let's talk about GameScent.

GameScent bills itself as a device that uses the magic of AI to inject scents into the air based on what's happening from moment to moment in your game: "Haptic stench," as hardware writer Nick Evanson put it when GameScent was announced earlier this year. Six scents are included with the base unit: Gunfire, explosions, racing cars, forest, storm, and "clean air," which is actually intended to eliminate the other scents—so really, it's five and a neutralizer. It's not the most well-rounded mix, but enough for the typical mainstream gamer? I guess that's the theory.

My GameScent experience did not get off to a strong start. The device is controlled through a mobile app, and it's not optional: The app is needed to make two separate Bluetooth connections (one for the atomizer, the other for the audio analyzer), and then Wi-Fi connections for each. It's not difficult but the process is opaque and the net result was a pain in the ass: The instructions are little more than "download the app and do what it says," while the app is clearly designed by someone who already knows how to use it and isn't giving any thought to those of us who don't. 

After struggling through the setup, which of course involved getting small amounts of stinko juice on my hands, my desk, and my crotch, I was finally able to take the GameScent for a spin. I decided Far Cry 5, a game laden with gunfire, explosions, cars, and forests, would be a good test bed, but the results were—and I'm being as polite as possible here—inconclusive. At first I wasn't certain it was working at all, until I foolishly leaned directly over the device just as it triggered, sending a belch of eau de gunfire straight and forcefully up my snoot. If you've ever inhaled a cigarette through your nose, you'll have a rough idea of what the experience was like; if you haven't, well, don't. Trust me.

I did eventually notice a vaguely acrid scent filling the room after I'd spent some time causing chaos in Montana, but it wasn't anything distinct, just a faintly sulfuric smell that hung in the air constantly, regardless of what I was doing. I also noticed that my eyes were burning. Maybe my allergies were acting up? Taking no chances, I shut it down for the night.

The next night, I tried a different tack: I fired up Morels: The Hunt 2, a serene game about wandering through the woods taking pictures and collecting mushrooms. Somehow the experience was even poorer. On a calm, clear, sunny in-game day, the GameScent's forest smell triggered eight times (although I can't honestly say it smelled like any forest I've ever been in), but the storm scent popped 10 times (calm, sunny day, remember) and somehow the gunfire scent went off four times. (There is no gunfire in Morels 2. There are no guns in Morels 2.) 

Moving to a different map on a stormy day, I got four storm triggers—as close as the thing ever got to "accurate"—but also multiple explosion scents when thunder rolled. And again, after an hour or so my eyes were burning. 

Somehow the gunfire scent went off four times. There is no gunfire in Morels 2. There are no guns in Morels 2.

I switched to Helldivers 2, thinking the charred corpses of alien bugs would surely put the GameScent to proper work, but for some reason it seemed the least reactive of all: Gunfire and explosions went off a few times but intermittently and almost at random, and because I am stupid I did another up-close "is this thing still working" smell test and learned (the hard way) (again) that shooting the equivalent of dollar-store air freshener directly up my nose is not a good idea.

The end-of-the-day result was just not good. My room smelled, my eyes hurt, and I'm pretty sure the rest of the PC Gamer team was getting a good laugh at the thought of me wasting hours of my time with this stupid thing.

Technically, GameScent does work, to the extent that it occasionally farts odours into the air. But it fails in every meaningful way. The collection of scents is incredibly limited, and there's no mixing or variation in intensity; it just goes off, like someone shooting a burst of old, rancid Glade into your face every so often. And there's no connection to what's happening on the screen. AI in general is a hollow promise but this feels like an especially egregious application of a marketing buzzword. If your AI is detecting gunfire in Morels 2, well, I have bad news about the "intelligence" part.

My real issue with GameScent isn't that it's a dumb idea. I thought Gamer Goo was a dumb idea but then I put it on my hands and god help me, I actually liked it. What bothers me most about GameScent is that it's a dumb idea, poorly executed. I have no clue how you'd pull off something like this well, and frankly I don't think I want to smell my videogames anyway. But I do know that sometimes, not doing something is better than half-assing it. And I can say with great confidence that this is the most half-assed contraption I have ever connected to my PC.

GameScent feels like a $20 gag gift that's good for a laugh and a bit of fooling around with, after which it goes back into the closet and, eventually, the dumpster. But somehow it sells for $150, which is absolutely bananas. Even if it lived up to the on-the-box promises I'm not convinced it'd be worth anywhere near that price, and it absolutely does not come close to reaching that bar. Maybe someday, someone will figure out how to make your games smell like they're supposed to, and when that day comes you can decide for yourself if that's something you want in your life. But that day is not today, and trust me: You don't want this.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.