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Conway's game of Life

Now you can play Conway's Game of Life in your browser using a program written by Sean McManus

Hands holding a plant shoot in a clod of mud

The game of Life was developed by John Conway of Cambridge University and goes back over thirty years. It's a model for a simple ecosystem, but its basic rules give rise to surprising complexity.

The world is divided into squares which can be vacant or occupied by cells. With each passing generation, some cells will survive while others die. Cells can be born in empty spaces.

A cell's destiny is governed by how many neighbours it has:

  • A cell with four or more neighbours dies from overcrowding
  • A cell with one or no neighbours dies from loneliness and isolation
  • An empty space with three neighbours gives birth to a new cell
  • Cells with two or three neighbours survive to the next generation

Example evolution

This arrangement is stable. It doesn't lead to any births or deaths:

Screenshot of stable life system

But if we introduce just one cell inside the top right corner of the 'circular' structure, it starts changing. After two generations, it looks like this:

Screenshot after two generations

After four generations, it looks like this:

screenshot after four generations

After six generations, it looks like this:

screenshot after six generations

It evolves for about twenty generations in all before settling down to a new stable pattern with fewer cells, which looks like this:

Screenshot of new stable pattern

Example glider

There are many shapes that appear to crawl across the area. Here's one:

Screenshot of glider

You can find more examples of gliders and stable shapes by following the links below, but you might want to discover some for yourself first.

Play Conway's game of Life online

I've created a version of Life for you to play on this website. It opens in a new window. To play, move the mouse over the play area and click to add or remove a cell. Press the 'generate' button to evolve one generation. You can add and remove cells at any time.

Related links

Photo by Pexels

Credits

© Sean McManus. All rights reserved.

Visit www.sean.co.uk for free chapters from Sean's coding books (including Mission Python, Scratch Programming in Easy Steps and Coder Academy) and more!

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