Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

An early social-computational model

This article discusses James Conway's Game of Life.
A screenshot from the “Game of Life” from the Netlogo library by Netlogo
James Conway’s The Game of Life was an important step for computational social science. It showed that amazing patterns could grow out of simple rules of interaction between cells. In the following video, Conway’s game of life is explained.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Conway’s Game of Life

The game of life is an early social computational model. It simulates a very simple organism: a cell, that can be dead or alive depending on the number of neighbouring cells that are dead or alive. The fascinating thing you can observe is that these simple rules of interaction produce group patterns that move over the grid of cells. In scientific terms we call this “emergence”, as rules for interaction defined for individuals (micro) produce behavioural patterns on a group level (macro). Nowadays, social computation uses theory based rules for interaction. Nevertheless, Conway’s Game of Life is still a clear example of an essential capability of social computation: interactions between individuals can grow fascinating phenomena at the group level.

We invite you to experiment with Conway’s Game of life for yourself. Also, a very nice collection of life forms in the Game of Life can be found on

This article is from the free online

Social Network Analysis: The Networks Connecting People

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education