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Are you playing the finite or the infinite game?
James P. Carse wrote:
There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite; the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play. If a finite game is to be won by someone, it must come to a definite end. It will come to an end when someone has won …
Carse goes on to define what it means to win: winning means that the players agree that the game is over and agree who is the winner. In general, it is clearly defined in advance how ‘winning’ looks like. Also, a finite game needs clear boundaries, in time, in space, and in who can play.
In an infinite game, there is no ‘winning’, since there is no end. Playing is infinite, without clear boundaries, since, following Carse, “each play of an infinite game eliminates boundaries, it opens to players a new horizon of time.” Also, in an infinite game, everyone who wants to play, can play. There is no need to be selected and there is no way for other players to take your right to play away.
I need to dig deeper into Carse’s book. But it seems to me that life is an infinite game, yet we often play it as if we want to win. We define clear temporal and often spatial boundaries around our projects, and we define what it looks like to ‘win’, to bring the project to an end successfully.
Yet, over time we often realise that the way we imagined winning would look like is not all that clear. The metaphorical goal posts seem to shift (what an apt metaphor). People we did not want to be part of the game play a bigger role than we thought and we cannot exclude them from playing. Or, if we make it to the defined objective successfully – if we win – we might not feel like winning. It is more the feeling of reaching another ridge just to see that we haven’t reached the end yet. Because there is no end.
What does it mean for you to play life as an infinite game? Do you? Feel free to reply to this message and share your thoughts with me.
Carse, James. 1986. Finite and Infinite Games. Free Press.
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