The year is 2078. You are a humble server, tasked with beaming soups to the hungry humans upstairs. Rather than cook, your job is to decide what counts as soup, because your soup is cooked by aliens, and they are getting confused. Batteries swimming in a thick liquid—is that soup? What about mussels and a pile of rocks served with an ice cream scooper?
This is the entire premise of the interactive game Something Something Soup Something. If you hit the “soup” button, your soup will be beamed upstairs. If you press “not soup,” the substance will be whisked into a dumpster. Yet this seemingly simple task quickly becomes a series of philosophical quandaries.
Something Something Soup Something’s creator, Dr. Stefano Gualeni, is a philosopher and video game designer at the University of Malta. He describes the game as a kind of “thought experiment” inspired by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose work delved into the discrepancies of language. According to the website, the game is “designed to reveal, through its gameplay, that even a familiar, ordinary concept like ‘soup’ is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively.”
To create the game, Gualeni and two other designers assembled focus groups in several countries to identify which properties people associate with soup. Is soup defined by being served in a bowl? Is soup defined by how thick the liquid is? How do people’s definitions vary from country to country?
Gualeni found that people’s definitions became nebulous when, say, a frozen liquid entered the mix. People also struggled when they discussed soup served with a straw. It begs the question: Does a soup have to be eaten with a spoon? Chopsticks often accompany ramen, after all. And what about one of the options the game presents: a foamy liquid with mussels served in a hat with a fork? Do soup ingredients have to be edible? At some point, it’s impossible to say. Even dictionary definitions okay cases ranging from liquid foods to heavy fogs and “unfortunate predicaments.”
At the end of the game, players can read about their philosophy of soup, as revealed by their choices in the game. According to mine, I believe that soup can be a solid or a liquid, that it can be served in anything, and that it may contain inedible components. Which precisely proves the point of Something Something Soup Something: Soup can be anything, everything, and nothing all at once.
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