How Existential: Two MacBooks Playing Rock-Paper-Scissors Forever

In this eternal game of chance, there is no ultimate winner, just a temporary one

When two oiled gladiators enter the ring, size each other up, and start throwing rocks, paper, or scissors at one another, they have a number of strategies at their disposal to gain the upper hand. For example, throwing out a rock while bellowing “Paper!” can have a devastating effect on an opponent.


But against a truly random competitor, it’s impossible to game an advantage. It is just this principle that German artist duo Moritz Schell and Frederic Seybicke explore in their own cold logic version of Rock-Paper-Scissors, a Sisyphean exercise in which two MacBooks battle each other in an inescapable game of chance, forever.

Created with the open source programming language Processing, Schnell and Seybicke originally set their two MacBook Pros to the task of battling one another after arguing over whose laptop was more powerful. They decided to settle the issue with a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, a decision that Schnell will cheerily admit doesn’t make a lick of sense. “Our work is often done with a wink of the eye,” laughs Schnell.

Ostensibly, then, the game currently going on in Weimar, Germany between the artists’ computers is a battle of might. Yet connected by Ethernet, the two computers are evenly matched, running the exact same algorithm to determine which wireframe rock, sheet of paper, or pair of shears to throw next. Because of that, there can be no ultimate winner in this game, only a temporary one. In the infinity of time, these two computer will always win exactly the same number of games.

So while Rock-Paper-Scissors is not about to settle any real argument between these two perfectly matched machines, the conflict between them has taken on an almost metaphysical bent.

“No matter what the task, humans always think they’re in charge of everything they do,” Schnell tells Co.Design. “Even playing a game like Rock-Paper-Scissors, they feel responsible if they win or lose, thinking their tactics were what won or lost them the match. But computers don’t play that way. They play truly randomly. And the question is, does it really make a difference to the end result?”

If you’ve ever been to a Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament, you might, perhaps, know the feeling. More of Schnell and Seybicke’s work can be found on the duo’s official site.