The phrase “soft system” has come into common usage at PlayTable. But what is a soft system? And why is it a valuable concept for us?
A “soft system” is a term that was used a lot in the GIL at USC’s Interactive Media Lab. It’s not an official term, but it has come into common usage in gaming circles. A soft system is a game — if you can call it that — but one with no real objective. It’s an environment or an activity, with no right or wrong thing to do. There is certainly no punishment. It’s more about discovery and exploration and playing with an economy of resources in the environment. A good soft system, in my opinion, has a way of righting itself, or rather, returning to stasis over time.
A “Soft System” is a valuable concept for us because it’s perfect for light demos, and demos at conferences. At conferences, people stop in to the booth and they need to be able to try something out, with few (if any) instructions. We want people to be intrigued. We want them to stop by the demo. We put a piece in their hand and we say, “hey, try putting this down!” And then they do, and they see what happens…And they start experimenting with other pieces.
A good soft system can run all day long without needing to be reset — no matter how busy or how slow the convention is. People can do anything they want to disturb the “ecosystem,” (I use that term very loosely) by say, putting in new planets with gravitational pulls, or by introducing new carnivores into the grassy plains.