Michael McWhertor recounts Jason Rohrer's extraordinary Game Developers' Conference presentation from last March; Rohrer used a set of genetic algorithms to evolve and play-test a board-game that no human ever played, then he milled it out of a piece of titanium and buried it, along with acid-free rules encased in Pyrex, and buried it in the desert for someone to dig up in 2,700 years and play for the first time. It was in response to a design challenge called "Humanity's Last Game," and Rohrer certainly made a run at it.
To accomplish that, Rohrer first built the game in computer form, designing a set of rules that would be playtested not by a human, but by an artificial intelligence. He said he plugged the game's rules into a "black box," letting the AI find imbalances, iterating new rules and repeating. Rohrer showed the video game version of his board game onscreen, but obscured key portions of the board game's layout, so no one in attendance could reverse engineer its mechanics.
Then he set about manufacturing it. Rattling off a list of board game materials that would be unlikely to last the intended passage of time (wood, cardboard, aluminum, glass), Rohrer ultimately decided to make the game from a resilient metal. He machined the 18-inch by 18-inch game board and the pieces future players will use out of 30 pounds of titanium.
Rohrer laid out the game's rules diagrammatically on three pages of archival, acid-free paper, hermetically sealed them inside a Pyrex glass tube — which were then housed inside a titanium baton — and set about burying them in the earth.
The game is now embedded somewhere in the Nevada desert. Rohrer's not exactly sure where, as he plotted out available public land far enough away from roads and populated areas, hoping to find a suitable, desolate location to hide the game. He buried it in the desert himself, he said, turned around and walked away from the game's indistinguishable resting place.
His finale was distributing about a million GPS coordinates spread across hundreds of envelopes, and explaining that it would take one person a million days (about 2,700 years) to visit each site and check it with a metal-detector. However, my money is on this being buried somewhere along the trash-fence at Burning Man.
Game designer Jason Rohrer designs a game meant to be played 2,000 years from now, hides it in desert [Polygon/Michael McWhertor]
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.