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John Conway's Game of Life

Updated on July 30, 2013

Life On Your Computer

John Conway's Game of Life is a fascinating cellular automaton developed in 1970 by British mathematician John Conway. If it hadn't been for the advent of cheap personal computers in the mid 1970's, if would have probably remained an interesting footnote in the history of mathematics. Computers changed that though, and now you can play life on your own PC or Mac with freely downloadable programs. There's even a java version that lets you play it on the web. If that sounds boring to you, there's at least one hardware version of life using a 100 by 100 LED matrix as a "screen" and an 8051 to control it.

Computer Game of Life - Playing Life online...

If you Google "Conway's game of life" you will get many links to online versions of the game. This site is my particular favorite for no particular reason. Most of the sites you'll find will let you play Life online to get a taste of what the game is like.

Rules for the Game of Life

The rules of Life are very simple...

The game of life is played on a supposedly infinite grid of squares, or cells. Each cell starts as either dead or alive. On each cycle of the game, a cell either becomes alive, stays alive, or dies, depending on the state of neighboring cells:

  • A dead cell comes alive if it has 3 living neighbors
  • A living cell dies if it has less than 2 or more than 3 living neighbors
  • A living cell stays alive if it has 3 living neighbors

That's it! Although these rules are simple, they allow for some really incredible and complicated displays to be generated, and Mr. Conway experimented with many different variations before settling on these specific rules.

Getting a Life

There are many ways you can "get a Life"...

It's easy to "get a Life." You can download free versions for your PC, you can write your own program to play the Game of Life, there is even a hardware version of the Game of Life you can build. The easiest way to play Life is to find an online version. A more fun way would be to write a program that plays it. The most interesting version of Life I've seen is a kit from Spare Time Gizmos that uses an LED array as the "screen" and an 8051 MCU for the "brains."

Beyond Life - Computer life and other computer game theory...

Life Patterns

Life is fascinating to watch. Input a random pattern of living cells and see what happens. Sometimes all the cells will die off quickly, Other times you'll see "cities" grow and die as the "population centers" move around the screen. It's not always random though, and the computer game of life has revealed some interesting patterns. The simplest one is the block - a 2x2 block of living cells. Since all living cells have 3 living neighbors, none die. Since all surrounding cells have less than 3 living neighbors, no new cells come to life. Hence, the pattern never changes.

Please Sign my Guestbook - I'd love to hear about your Life experiences...

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