Julie Legault, Alexis Hope, and Felix Heibeck, researchers at the MIT Media Lab, have created a new literary genre with a book that lets the reader get immersed in the story on a whole new level… by experiencing the protagonist’s physiological emotions. They call it Sensory Fiction.

“Market this with 50 Shades of Grey and you’re onto a winner.” – Jim To make this Jane Austen/Jane Jetson-esque mashup possible, these three really smart people developed an “augmented” book that connects to a “wearable” or harness-type thing. Both are tricked out with networked technology designed to work together to make the fictional character’s emotions tangible to the real-life reader.

Here’s how it works: The book cover, which is equipped with 150 programmable LEDs, animates to reflect the story’s changing atmosphere, setting, and mood, while changes in the protagonist’s emotional or physical state trigger discrete vibrations in the reader’s wearable. The vibration patterns are designed to influence heart rate, convey tightness or loosening through pressurized airbags, or cause localized changes to skin temperature. Not sure if that’s really cool or really creepy?

Sensory Fiction Harness

Jim, a commenter under the Sensory Fiction project summary on the MIT Media Lab site, said, “Market this with 50 Shades of Grey and you’re onto a winner.” We could NOT agree more!

But before you get all excited about the possibility of living vicariously through Anastasia Steele, Sensory Fiction is still in the prototype stage. The prototype story, The Girl Who Was Plugged In by James Tiptree, though assumably void of the “Red Room of Pain” and its corresponding whips and chains, is said to showcase “an incredible range of settings and emotions. The main protagonist experiences both deep love and ultimate despair, the freedom of Barcelona sunshine and the captivity of a dark damp cellar.”