Which Video Game Originally Included a Scratch and Sniff Disc?
Answer: Gran Turismo 2
Scratch and sniff technology has popped up in all sorts of odd places over the years but by far one of the stranger places is scent-impregnated video game discs. Game discs wouldn’t be the first time that video games and scratch and sniff technology crossed paths; however, back in 1995 the official game guide for Super Nintendo game EarthBound included a set of scratch and sniff cards (many of which were rather putrid). That certainly wasn’t the last time scratch and sniff technology would mesh with video gaming.
In 1999, as part of a rather bizarre marketing ploy, Sony released Gran Turismo 2 with a scratch and sniff disc. The original game came as a two-disc set; they claimed the second disc in the set, a blue disc with extra game content, had a “real racing pit smell”. When scratched by curious gamers, the disc released the scent of burnt rubber and fuel.
Following the release of a scratch and sniff disc in 1999 by Sony, Electronic Arts apparently didn’t want to miss the scratch and sniff train and released their own scratch and sniff game disc. FIFA 2001, an incarnation of the popular soccer series, included a scratch and sniff disc that, when scratched, released the scent of soccer stadium turf. Apparently the smell of burnt rubber and grass was enough to satisfy people; no scratch and sniff games have been released since then–although Kate Perry released her 2010 Teenage Dream album with a bubble-gum scented scratch and sniff CD.
For those of you who have been wondering exactly how scratch and sniff technology works, it’s a rather interesting bit of chemistry and industrial engineering all rolled up into one. Back in the 1960s an organic chemist working for 3M, Gale Matson, created and patented a micro-encapsulation process intended to facilitate the production of copies without carbon paper. 3M’s marketing department, in an effort to get more bang for their buck out of the recent invention, came up with several alternatives for the technology including the preservation and distribution of scents. The first Scratch ‘N Sniff sticker appeared in 1965.
The actual process of creating scratch and sniff material is more complicated that you’d imagine. Most people assume that the scent is simply painted onto the surface, but that would yield a scent that didn’t last for very long as the scent oil would evaporate over time. To create scratch and sniff stickers scientists cook up an oil mixture that smells like they wish it to smell (like candy, fresh cut grass, or even less pleasant smells like body odors and rotting garbage). They mix the scented oil into a vat of a water soluble polymer, then they agitate the oil until it has separated into millions of tiny drops, and finally they dump in a chemical catalyst. The chemical catalyst causes the polymer to encapsulate the tiny drops of oil. After a few steps to refine, wash, and dry the capsules, the final product is a pile of tiny, tiny (20-30 microns wide) scent beads.
Those beads are mixed in with printing ink and applied to surfaces. When the user scratches the surface the friction of their finger breaks the micro-capsules and the scent is released. It is because of this encapsulation process that old but unscratched scratch and sniff stickers can smell fresh even after years in storage–the scented oil is stored safely away in the polymer shell waiting for someone to drag their finger across the surface and say “Ugh, why would anyone make Scratch ‘N Sniff Garbage Pail Kids?”