Finite and Infinite Games

Finite and Infinite GamesFinite and Infinite Games

Finite and Infinite Games is written by religion professor James Carse, the author who gave us ”The Silence of God” and ”Death and Existence”, comes “Finite and Infinite Games”, a literary discourse about the different finite and infinite games that humans play throughout the course of their lives.

According to Carse, there are two types of games; finite and infinite. Finite games are instrumental activities like politics, religion, sports and even war. In this type of game, there are definite sides to be chosen, where participants know and follow the rules, and respect the boundaries.

There’s always a clear winner and loser in Finite Games. On the other hand, the infinite game consist of all human interaction, from touching, talking, trade to culture. This single, infinite game has constantly changing rules, where players often tread the boundaries and its sole purpose is to ensure that the game goes on and on. If the game is drawing to a conclusion, the rules change so that the game can continue.

The book focuses on the differences between the two games and the players who engage in them. For example, players of finite games seek victory and power; whereas those who play the one, true infinite game revels in self-sufficiency. Infinite games seek attention, while the infinite game requires participants.

The book goes into much detail about the two games and their differences, but one thing is certain in Carse’s tone: finite games and those who play it are inferior to the true infinite game and its players. The goal is to encourage people to turn their backs on the finite games and choose to participate in the infinite game instead.

This line of thinking certainly isn’t new. Several other philosophers and psychologists have explored this way of thinking, and even in history, you see many instances of its application. The battle between “the end justifies the means” and the sincere concern for the well-being of your people. The battle between doing things to achieve a goal, or doing things to benefit yourself. These battles have been fought since time immemorial, Carse just likened the two differing mindsets to games that people choose to play.

However, although the book makes it clear that the ways of the infinite player is superior to the finite ones, there’s no clear distinction between right and wrong, between moral and immoral. As stated earlier, players of the infinite game often tread the boundaries, and the rules constantly change. Does this mean that infinite players aren’t slaves to the moral and ethical boundaries of man? In this way, there is no clear distinct wrong or right in the eyes of infinite player, unlike finite players who follow rules of the game.

The book contains a lot of ironies and vagueness. According to Carse, everyone is a genius of themselves, meaning each person is an expert on his own self. This means that any interpretation you get from any literary work is validated. For example, if i interpret a certain poem one way, and you interpret it in a completely different way, both of our interpretations are, in fact, correct. This is because our interpretations are a reflection on what we know about ourselves, and since the person who knows best about ourselves is… ourselves, it means we are both correct. Confusing yes? The book is full of such statements.

There are also times when Carse contradicts himself. As an infinite player, he is much against being a conformist and traditional; however, he is a fan of the Renaissance. Then again, he is an infinite player, so he stands for nothing, and his varying, almost contradicting views are just instances of infinite players treading the boundaries, changing the rules.

The book, while an interesting read, is filled with vagueness and ironies. It almost makes you feel inept if you can’t understand it, maybe because you’re a finite player who plays by the rules and doesn’t think outside the box. It makes you wonder that because you live life like a finite player would, adhering to rules, having a set goal and having a set of defined principles, if you haven’t been playing this game called life the correct way at all.

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