The game is a grid-based cellular automaton, completely pre-determined by its initial state. Each cell can be either alive or dead, and in each iteration step interacts with its eight neighbors via the following four rules:
- A living cell with fewer than two living neighbors dies.
- A living cell with more than three living neighbors dies.
- A living cell with two or three living neighbors continues living.
- A dead cell with exactly three living neighbors becomes a living cell.
The game is an example of a self-organising system, allowing for complex patterns to emerge. It is also Turing complete.