From Science Fiction to Sensory Fiction

With today’s media advances, some argue that the book is a dying medium. It’s in the shadow of the other media: film has not only 3D viewing experience, but also IMAX, IMAX 3D, RealD, 4D (sometimes), etc; televisions can be Smart TVs or 3D TVs.

But what about the book? Sure, there are e-books on fancy e-readers and on slick tablets—but that’s not as entirely new or remarkable a medium as Sensory Fiction, anyway.

In December 2013, Sensory Fiction was first developed as an MIT course project by researchers Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope, and Julie Legault. 

In a nutshell, Sensory Fiction is an interactive book with special body gear that allows the reader to feel the emotions the characters are experiencing as the book is read. For example, the book would vibrate if a character ran away from a masked killer, allowing the reader to feel that character’s heartbeat run wild. If a character encounters that all too familiar feeling of being watched by someone in that life-threatening, fifth sense, then you’re going to feel your stomach dropping and your breath hitching up your throat by the wearable gear’s pressurized airbags.

However, Sensory Fiction has met some opposition among critics. Adam Roberts, a science fiction author that won the best novel prize in the British Science Fiction Association, criticized Sensory Fiction by stating that it returns the reading experience to infantile, mechanical children’s pop-up books where the reader pushes buttons for sound.

But imagine it: reading a science fiction novel with a device inspired by science fiction. The future could hold the immersive, virtual reality machines we’ve all seen in films and imagined while reading sci-fi novels. Except with this machine, we wouldn’t control what happens as if it were our real life we were experiencing, but rather the life of a narrative’s characters in its imagined world as the narrative plays out. I would love to see that: a completely immersive, narrative experience.

Of course, in all speculative fiction, technological advances come with consequences. In sci-fi, there are a few consequences explored: that virtual immersion negatively affects one’s interactions with and/or notion of reality, that one cannot escape the virtual reality, and, what I find to be the most terrifying, that once we’re in the virtual reality, we don’t have the freedom to decide our own reality.

So what do you think? Do you think Sensory Fiction is the stepping stone to immersive storytelling? If so, should we be worried?

P.S. Check out the MIT team’s post on their class website for a video, pictures, and other notes about Sensory Fiction. And here are the links to Paste magazine and The Guardian’s articles that I referred to, if you’re interested in reading them:

http://scifi2scifab.media.mit.edu/2013/12/19/sensory-fiction/

http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2014/02/sensory-fiction-makes-books-physically-stimulating.html

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/28/sensory-fiction-mit-technology-wearable-fiction-books

– Brenda Bongolan

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One thought on “From Science Fiction to Sensory Fiction

  1. It sounds interesting and I could see some people jumping to try it but I will not be one of them. When reading, I enjoy the perspective of the fly on the wall. I don’t want to feel what the character is feeling, I prefer to create in my mind what they are feeling and watch them go through it.

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