I spent a year abroad between high school and college. Best year of my life. (And I hadn’t even started LARPing yet!) At the very end of the program, one of the staff gave everyone in the program a tiny bottle of a lemon scented liquid with a little white lemon blossom preserved inside. (They put the bottles on the buds before they bloom and let the flowers grow inside the bottles- creating a ship-in-the-bottle effect.)
The staff member who gave it to us told us that scent can be one of the most powerful triggers of memory, and that he was giving us a little piece of the land to take home and smell and let it remind us of our year. Every now and then I take out the little glass bottle and uncap it. For me, it triggers memories of the year ending, not the year itself, but the effect is still remarkably powerful. One sniff and I feel like I’m right back in that hotel function space with the other kids in my program, working on some sort good-bye art project and listening to a mix CD of songs about friendship and life moving on. (Is it me or is Glory Days one of the most depressing songs ever.)
For me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true of many people, the memories scent triggers aren’t specific details, things people said or wore… It’s more like a very visceral feeling of being in a certain situation. (And the details may come a bit later.)
Of course, I mention all of this because I wonder how it can be used in LARPing.
I’ve heard of scent coming up in discussions of setting the scene for a LARP and trying to invoke all 5 senses. But logistically, it presents a lot of difficulties. I think theater style LARPers are concerned with bothering players with allergies or sensitive noses (and they don’t always take place in well-ventilated places.) Boffer style LARPs tend to be more permissive in terms of risking physical discomfort… but often take place outdoors (or in “mod buildings” that aren’t wind-proof) and any attempt to provide the players with a scent may well be totally lost.
Which is a pity, I think, because I remember walking around the flagship Yankee Candle store, and being blown away by the sheer variety of scents, and how evocative they were of various environments. (I almost bought the campfire scent- campfire smell without an actual campfire!)
But I haven’t given up on using scent in a LARP- maybe it just has to be on an individual player basis. I know of a few LARPers who like to wear a particular perfume or cologne depending on their casting. There’s a company called BPAL that creates an insane variety of themed scents, designed to evoke all kinds of crazy concepts, with a business model that allows people to try many without buying whole bottles.
Me, I own exactly one bottle of perfume, and that was a gift. I don’t know if I have enough interest in perfume to start a BPAL collection of my own, so I probably wouldn’t try to come up with a scent for every theater LARP character I was cast as… but I can definitely see myself buying one for a campaign character to be used several times a year. I think having one scent strongly associated with being a particular character in her (or his… or its) particular home environment… using that visceral effect scent can have might be a huge boost in the effort of getting into character. Another dimension to costuming, if you will.
Hmm. Now the issue is figuring out what kind of scent my various character concepts for Cottington Woods would have…