John Conway
John Conway

Introduction to the Game of Life

John Conway is a world-renown mathematician, who was born in Liverpool, England in 1937. He particularly enjoyed inventing all kinds of fun math games; one of the most famous of these games is “The Game of Life”. This game was invented in the sixties, and in 1970 became very popular after being published by Martin Gardner in a series of articles “Scientific American”.

The Game of Life is not really a game at all. It is ‘played’ by one player and there is no winning or losing in the game. It is called ‘Life’ because it can be viewed as a primitive simulator of evolution.

  • The game is played on an infinite grid.
  • Each square on the board is called a cell.
  • Each cell has eight neighbors. Neighboring cells share a common side or a common vertex.
  • A cell can be in a state of “life” or “death”.
  • A live cell is colored black, and a dead cell is left empty.

The game starts when the player draws an initial pattern of live cells on the board. A set of rules is applied simultaneously to the live cells, whereupon some cells die and new cells are born, and a new pattern evolves. This process can be repeated over and over again. Each step in the process is called a generation. Which cells die and which are born in each generation are decided according to the pattern’s configuration as we shall see in the video in the next step.

There are many computer simulations of the Game of Life. Watching the so-called life-forms evolve through many generations is really cool as you can see for yourself in the animation below or in the gallery in the related links.

Evolution of the Game of Life

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This article is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Recreational Math: Fun, Games and Puzzles

Weizmann Institute of Science