Conway's Game of Life Flash Simulation

The Game of Life is an automated simulation based on a simple set of rules, developed by John H. Conway in 1970. It is called a 'cellular automaton' in the academic community.

Its behaviour is dependent upon the initial configuration of cells. Using the flash simulation above, you can select a prepared configuration or generate one at random. Once started, it will carry on forever.

Rules of the Game of Life

The square grid base is infinitely large, and each cell is either 'alive' or 'dead'. During a run each cell interacts with its eight neighbouring cells in different ways.

There are four original rules for the Game of Life:

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by loneliness.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

Why do academics find the Game of Life so interesting?

If you try quite a few runs with the flash simulation above you might notice certain patterns. There are actually quite a few known complex patterns that emerge as the 'generations' pass by.

These patterns appear on a large scale, i.e. the whole square base, and on a small scale, like a bundle of 15 or fewer cells. The patterns run in cycles, carrying on for as long as the user lets the game run.

They are usually split into three categories: 'Still lifes' that remain perfectly stationary, 'Oscillators', and 'Spaceships' that move across the grid base.

Here's a Still life called a 'loaf':

A Still life pattern in the Game of Life called a 'loaf'.

Here's an Oscillator called a 'pulsar':

An Oscillator pattern called a 'pulsar'.

And a Spaceship called a 'glider':

A Spaceship pattern called a 'glider'.

Mathematicians and scientists of many disciplines have studied these patterns in the Game of Life to see how they develop, and to try to come up with sets of rules and formulae for predicting their formation.

They are also studied as a simple model for self-replication and population behaviour. New types of patterns and variations are being discovered regularly.

It's amazing that such complex sub-patterns can emerge, and many see profound beauty in the behaviour and pattern of the game.

Recommended reading:

Here are some books about cellular automata, nonlinear systems, and other topics related to the Game of Life:

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