Playing with Emergence

Last Saturday, Seth Frey organized an awesome party at his Cambridge loft. Different people were given different tasks, and I had the mission to "prepare an artificial life demonstration, using the actually living in your audience". I remembered hearing at some conferences (was it a talk by Eric Bonabeau?) about games where people follow simple rules, and then end up creating interesting patterns, independently of the initial conditions, without the need of anybody knowing what was expected from them.

I didn't find some examples online, so I devised a few games, which were played at the party by about 30 people:
  • "approach one": each player chooses another player, and approaches one step at a time (I did the synchronizing with clapping). I thought everybody would end up in the center, but actually a few clusters were formed.
  • "retreat one": each player chooses another player, and runs away. I thought that everybody would end up at the edges of the room, and they did.
  • "between two": each player chooses two players, and tries to step in between them. I had no idea what would happen, and everybody ended cramming up in the center of the room.
The idea of these games is to try to understand the relationship between local behavior and global patterns... plus they are fun...

So, preparing for the next party, I made a simple simulation with NetLogo. This repeated the results from the party experiments, plus I programmed more strategies, and the ability to mix them i.e. to have some players approach and some retreating. You can play with it from your Java-enabled browser, or download the source code here.


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