Why we need to make quantum games

After many years of development, Quantum computers are beginning to burst into reality. But there’s still plenty of work to be done. I think that developing games for quantum computers should be part of that. This article will tell you why.

Getting people involved

The quest for quantum computers frequently gets media attention. It is definitely something that people are interested in. But it also seems to be something that is regarded as inaccessible for most people.

Quantum games will be a definite way to move past this. Everyone plays games in one form or another. It’s a universal application that everyone can understand. Letting people play games on a quantum computer will help lift the veil of mystery that hangs over these devices.

Making games is also a quite popular hobby among software developers. Most would probably admit to writing something simple for fun at one time or another. Developing quantum games will therefore provide a familiar way to experiment programming these devices. It’ll help show people that quantum software development is something they might want to look into. With this in mind, I’ll be writing a series of tutorial articles, showing you how to program simple quantum games.

Teaching people about quantum effects

Quantum games can also be an educational tool. Game mechanics could be based on important quantum phenomena, allowing players a starting point to learn about the physics behind the computers.

This is a possibility that I incorporated into the second game ever made for a quantum computer: Quantum Battleships.

It is a very simple game. Just an initial proof-of-principle that quantum games can be made. But it still manages to use some fancy quantum things.

The ships are actually pairs of quantum bits that share uniquely quantum correlations. By bombing them we apply the procedure of well-known experiment. The way they behave is proof of the inherently non-local nature of reality.

None of this impacts the game. You can play it without knowing or caring about the quantum stuff. But if you want to learn, you can. If you want to use it to investigate the nature of causality, you can. All with a simple game of Battleships.

Another proof-of-principle game is Quantum Solitaire. This uses pre-run quantum data in a game that can run in your browser.

The cards are dealt by quantum computer, which gives them some correlations that are impossible in our every day world. By trying to find the best method to win this card game, you’ll start to get an intuitive feel of what quantum entanglement can do. No knowledge of quantum mechanics required!

A game for this purpose has also been made by Rigetti, one of the world’s few manufacturers of quantum computers.

This provides a simple example of a quantum algorithm, and lets the player test themself against it.

Turning bugs into features

Some games don’t just have players: They have experts. People who don’t just know everything that is supposed to be in the game, but everything else too. All the glitches, all the bugs, all the unintended consequences of the game design. These experts know more than the game designers ever did, and they know how to use it. They become gods of the game’s universe.

This kind of behaviour isn’t limited to complex computer games. It’s also a crucial part of Rock-Paper-Scissors. There’s no clever strategies that you can use against a truly random opponent for this game. But no opponent is truly random. Everyone has glitches waiting to be discovered and used against them.

Quantum computers are no exception. Despite huge advances over the last few years, the basic operations in these devices are still a bit imperfect. Quantum error correction will sort this out, but we don’t yet have the resources. For the time being, even the most perfect program will be glitchy when it runs. Seeing how players adapt to this in quantum games will give us a new perspective on the noise in these devices, the effects it can have and how it can be exploited.

If you want to start, check out the first ever game made for a quantum computer: a Rock-Paper-Scissors clone that I call Cat/Box/Scissors.

Games can inspire software development

As far as we know, Alan Turing did not predict Breath of the Wild. When Ada Lovelave wrote the first rudimentary programs, she didn’t realize they were the first step towards Facebook. Those who developed computation did not know how ubiquitous it would become, and how much we would all rely on it.

It’s reasonable to expect that the same might be true for quantum computers. We scientists have our ideas of what they’ll be used for, like quantum simulation or factoring numbers. But once other people get a hold on them, we might find that new and unexpected uses start to emerge.

To take the first step towards this, we need to find an application that is robust to a bit of experimentation. Gaming is perfect for this. You could come up with a completely random circuit and see what it does. With enough imagination, you could find a way to use the results, whatever they are, to implement a game mechanic. I wouldn’t recommend this method of game design. But, in theory, it would work.

Trying to think up a scientific application for a random quantum circuit would not be quite so easy. So when exploring the wider possibilities of quantum computing, developing games will arguably be a good training exercise.

People like quantum stuff!

There is an app called Universe Splitter. It generates random bits. If you want to make a difficult decision, you could flip a coin. Or you could use this app.

This doesn’t sound all that great, but the reviews show that users seem pretty excited about it. Why? Because this app is based on an idea in quantum mechanics that ignites the imagination: quantum superposition and the many worlds interpretation.

The coin toss in this app is not done by a normal, boring pseudorandom number generator. Instead the app contacts a quantum device sitting in Switzerland. A photon doing two contradictory things at once is observed, and the result send to the user to help make their decision. According to the many worlds interpretation, the user will then make both decisions at once, each in a parallel universe.

This is why the app is great. It lets people get up close and personal with quantum effects. It lets them split the universe at the press of a button. The story behind the app makes a simple random number generator into something much grander.

If it can enhance a coin toss app, think how much more a bit of carefully used quantum magic could enhance a user’s appreciation of a game.

And more…

This article is a work in progress. I’ll keep thinking up ways that quantum gaming can help us. And I’ll keep thinking of ways to make it happen, through making games, organizing game jams, or just spamming Medium. If you gave any ideas, comments or criticisms, let me know.