Finite and Infinite Games

A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

by James Carse

Read Status: Completed 📕
Last tended 2 years ago
Planted 3 years ago
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1 min read ⚡️

👷‍♂️ Work in Progress 🚧

This article is developing. I am probably still piecing the fragments of ideas in the right places. Feel free to poke me on Twitter to finish this piece.



How I Discovered It

I read "Finite and Infinite Games" in Jun 2020 after finishing Simon Sinek's The Infinite Game The Infinite Game builds upon the concept of finite and infinite games by Carse and applied it specifically to the business and leadership domains.

A Bit of Optimism with Dr. James Carse

Sinek invited Dr Carse to talk about infinite games in his podcast in summer 2020. Sadly, Carse passed away in Sep 2020. I find this portion of their conversation fascinating, Dr Carse mentioned that he came to realization while discussing game theory with other professors from different disciplines in the faculty.

"After a while, what they were talking about was winning or losing a game or maximizing their winning and minimizing their losses. They weren't talking about playing the game which i thought was interesting."

Below is their conversation.

Key Ideas

Play To Win or Play Forever?

Carse suggested that there are at least two kinds of games; games with an end and games that go on forever.

The finite game's goal is to win. Sports, politics, wars all have strict rules that the players must adhere to. There are clear boundaries – there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is only one winner in this type of game, but other contestants may be ranked at the end of the game. Not everyone can be a corporate president, though those who compete for that prize may end up as vice presidents or district managers.

On the contrary, the infinite game's goal is to keep playing. Infinite games are less obvious and more complex, with ever-changing sets of rules and players. An infinite game can be played within a finite game, but not vice versa. Infinite players consider their wins and losses in whatever finite games they play to be merely moments in a continuous game.

The Element of Surprise

We Cannot Play Alone

Life Is A Game

There is but one infinite game.

Carse believes that we should approach life with an infinite mindset. By envisioning our lives as a game, Carse's theory can help us rediscover our childlike sense of life; to be more experimental, forward-looking, and accepting of life's surprises.

It makes my day when I see it.
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