Remember how good it felt the last time you were so absorbed in a book that you couldn’t put it down? Well, a team of innovators has come up with a whole new way for you to connect with your favorite authors.
Would you strap yourself to a device that physically replicates the emotions of a book’s protagonist? It might sound like a Star Trek plot, but students at MIT’s Media Lab have made it a reality.
In the name of “sensory fiction,” the creators of this book-and-vest combo want to turn plain old reading into a truly multisensory experience. The elaborate gadget senses what page the reader is on and uses 150 LED bulbs and dozens of sensors to create an atmosphere that “matches the character’s mood” through ambient light changes and vibrations.
It might sound like a Star Trek plot, but students at MIT’s Media Lab have made it a reality.
For those who like cuddling up with a good read, the wearable vest gives fiction a whole new squeeze. It sends feedback to the wearable vest, using sensors and a “heartbeat and shiver simulator” to constrict readers’ chests, modify heartbeat and even change body temperature. The effects are slight but noticeable and designed to help readers physically mirror the protagonist’s changing emotional state.
Is your character excited on Christmas morning? The book vibrates. Sad after losing a loved one? The cover turns blue. Scared of vampires? The vest goes cold and tight.
Creators Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope and Julie Legault say the goal of the project is to “find new ways of experiencing and creating stories” and to give authors “new means of conveying plot, mood and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination.”
Some might argue that good writers don’t need help conveying emotion, but sensory fiction is not much different from what the cinema industry has been doing for years with IMAX, HD, 3D and surround sound effects.
Augmented literature could be the next stage of publishing’s evolution. And why not? If video games bring players closer to the action by having their remote controls vibrate when a bomb goes off, why shouldn’t books explore interactivity?
Granted, using it to read a murder scene by Stephen King could be a little traumatic, and if you thought Fifty Shades of Grey did well in paperback, just imagine the sensory version.
But for the mainstream read, getting truly immersed in a character’s life could be an irresistible proposition. Who wouldn’t like to feel butterflies in their stomach while reading Pride and Prejudice during their commute? Or the thrill of making it Around the World in 80 Days with Phileas Fogg while sitting on the sofa?
The MIT prototype is based on the celebrated science fiction book The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree (aka Alice Bradley Sheldon), which follows its protagonist through an emotional roller coaster — from a suicide attempt to extreme joy.
Those quivering with excitement to get their hands on this enhanced book will have to wait a while. Its creators have no plans to commercialize it but are instead hoping to provoke debate about its potential use.
Now that electronic books have gone mainstream, perhaps giving readers the opportunity to become part of the story is the next best step. That is, if readers dare to take it.
Are you ready for a book with more feeling?