Zero-player game

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A zero-player game or no-player game is a simulation game that has no sentient players.

In computer games, the term refers to programs that use artificial intelligence rather than human players.[1]

The term can also refer to games of pure chance, such as bunco, in which participants cannot take any action or make any decision that meaningfully alters the outcome.

Conway's Game of Life, a cellular automaton devised in 1970 by the British mathematician John Horton Conway, is considered a zero-player game because its evolution is determined by its initial state, requiring no further input from humans.[2][3] In addition, some fighting and real-time strategy games can be put into zero-player mode where one AI plays against another AI.


There are various different types of games that can be considered "zero-player".[4]

Some games, such as Conway's Game of Life, evolve according to fixed rules from their initial setup. Others such as Snakes and Ladders evolve according to chance, but similarly the players have no decisions to make and have no impact on how the game progresses.

A more complex variation on the above is the case of artificial intelligences playing a game. Humans may have a challenge in designing the AI and giving it sufficient skill to play the game well, but the actual evolution of the game has no human intervention. Some strategy games allow for games with no human players to be played, turning them into zero player games.

For solved games, the optimum strategy for all players is known. Players can maximize their chances of winning by following these strategies, and any deviation would be sub-optimal play. Tic-tac-toe is a trivial example; two players who follow the easy-to-learn optimum strategy (rather than making sub-par decisions of their own) will always find their games end in a draw. More complex games have also been solved, for example checkers,[5] but in this case, learning the optimum strategy is beyond human capabilities. Solutions for even more complex games, such as chess or Go, must exist (as per Zermelo's theorem), but they have yet to be computed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society", Rodney P. Carlisle, SAGE Publications.
  2. ^ Martin Gardner (October 1970), "Mathematical games: The fantastic combinations of John Conway's new solitaire game 'Life'" (PDF), Scientific American
  3. ^ Ljiljana Petruševski; Mirjana Devetaković; Bojan Mitrović, Self-Replicating Systems in Spatial Form Generation – The Concept of Cellular Automata (PDF)
  4. ^ Björk, Staffan; Juul, Jesper (2012). "Zero-Player Games. Or: What We Talk about When We Talk about Players". The Philosophy of Computer Games Conference.
  5. ^ Minkel, J. R. "Computers Solve Checkers—It's a Draw". Scientific American. Retrieved 2020-08-02.