Game designer creates a never-played-by-humans titanium boardgame and buries it for play 2700 years from now

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]

(via Kadrey)


  1. You say “never played by a human.” I hear “never playtested by a human.”

    The game probably sucks. Neat project, though.

    1. It doesn’t seem to matter, he’s going to be long dead before anybody is around to tell him that his algorithm had a flaw and his game is horribly broken and unplayable.

    2. Yeah, this was my thought, too.  Then again, it was playtested by computer.  So maybe by the time it’s opened the singularity will have happened and the AIs living in their post-human hellscape will hail it as a fun game their ancestors created. 

  2. Or those who have the coordinates could set to publishing them on the web, then reddit can figure out which locations can’t be right, and volunteers can go find it. Then this game could be gathering dust on a shelf in a month or so.

  3. However, my money is on this being buried somewhere along the trash-fence at Burning Man.

    I’d bet on the fence where Steve Buscemi buried the briefcase of money in Fargo. On second thoughts that might not be such a good place, since so many people have already gone digging there, and many more will be sure to follow.

    If it were me I’d sink it in the Marianas Trench. I’m an optimist and assume that in 2700 years the oceans won’t have changed much, but that the technology will exist that will make it just as easy to travel 7 miles under water as it currently is to travel 7 miles across, or even above, land.

    1.  What he described wouldn’t survive 7 miles underwater.  The tube with the rules isn’t a solid.

  4. 2,700 years seems very optimistic for human survival.  Certainly in a healthy enough state to practice archeology.

  5. Such a missed opportunity. I would have placed it at the foot of the Long Now clock and titled it “The game to kill ten thousand years of time with”

  6. The concept of making a game for people 2,700 years from now and burying it isn’t, to me, particularly novel.  But using genetic algorithms to automate design and playtesting?  Now that’s interesting.

  7. I would offer the following: “DIY Drone” and “Ground-Penetrating Radar.” and “GPS.”  

  8. He’s just fucking with our distant descendants.

    They’ll find it and be all “This must be important!”

    So, great.  This inane game and the L R Hubbards collected works etched on steel plates will be how future historians / inquiring aliens learn about us.

  9. I used to have a friend back in New England who did something similar. He would make tablets with an invented form of hieroglyphs and then bury them around the us…just to fuck with our descendants. Good times.

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