Plastic And Circuit Boards: The Smells Of Videogames

Published on March 30th, 2009 in: Gaming, Issues, Smell-O-Rama |

By Megashaun

The sense of smell is like a mental time machine, and one that triggers memories with seemingly little effort. It’s also the sense that doesn’t seem to last long in that things will lose their scent over time. Air fresheners, new car smell, and perfumes all fade over time as the scent particles drift off into the air. Although I cannot close my eyes and make myself smell what a new Return of the Jedi toy from 1983 smells like, I still remember the vaguely Play-Doh scent that some of their rubberized accessories had, and if I was somehow able to smell one today, I would no doubt remember the first time my nose sensed it.

zelda cover

Videogames are similar in this respect, though their scents typically last longer. My first videogame console was the Sega Master System. Its games came in re-closable plastic cases very similar to the DVD cases of today. Because games were expensive, and because I wanted to keep them in as good condition as possible, I would store them in their plastic cases. This kept the combined smell of the cartridge circuit board, plastic, and paper and ink manual intact for much longer that if I had been like many friends who just tossed their cartridges aside after playing. Eventually however, these circuit boards smelled less and less like they first did with the exception of when they were hot from hours-long play sessions. I can confess now that I was a notorious Shinobi sniffer. It had one of the stronger scents of any cartridge-based game I ever owned, and when it got warm, it smelled just as good as day one.

As the years went by, I graduated from system to system, each one having slightly different smells. The rubber wires of the Super Nintendo controllers were, in retrospect, the strongest scent of that system. The rubber even smelled a bit like my old Jedi toys once did. Its cartridge games lost their scents sooner, since they were only packaged in porous cardboard boxes. Still, despite having an overall similar smell of circuitry, the games for both systems smelled different enough that I could tell the difference between them if there was such a thing as a videogame smell contest in which I was a contestant.

I didn’t really bother to pay much attention to videogame smells again until my relatively recent introduction to the Xbox 360, and this is because out of every videogame system I’ve ever played, it has what are by far the heaviest odors. This is probably because its games’ cases are sealed multiple ways—with shrinkwrap and cello tape seals. Upon opening up a game’s case, I’m always punched in the nose by the combined smell of the glossy instruction booklet and game disc. Certainly, this is among the most expensive of inhalant drugs on the market. Move over, permanent markers! There’s a new king of stink in town.

shinobi cover

Can you imagine a scenario in which people got together for videogame smellings? It would be like snobby wine tastings, only people would pick up games, wave them in the air, smell the air, then smell the games. They’d then go on to describe exactly what the smelled. “I detect a hint of copper amongst the plain of plastic. And… is that solder? Might the owner have had to fix a fallen-off microchip?,” are things you might hear at one of these events. The more adventurous would risk getting kicked out by actually opening up the cartridges to smell their interiors.

Not that I’ve ever done that. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to sniff Shinobi.

One Response to “Plastic And Circuit Boards: The Smells Of Videogames”


  1. Kevin:
    November 30th, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    I still remember what the Sega Master System boxes and manuals smelled like as if it was just yesterday!

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