Finite and Infinite Games is a playful philosophical book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. It felt like watching a really good TV show, where you just can’t wait to see what happens next.

There are two types of games: finite games and infinite games. Both exist in the real world. Finite games are played within set rules, or boundaries, and they have a clear beginning and a clear end. Finite games are played for the purpose of ending the game and declaring a winner and a loser. Winners earn titles once the game is over. Finite games have an audience, which is what gives the title its power. Think of a game of chess or a game of football.

“One does not win by being powerful; one wins to be powerful. I can therefore have only what powers others give me.”

Infinite games have no beginning and no end. Infinite games have rules and boundaries, but they are not played within rules and boundaries. In fact, infinite players play with the rules and the boundaries of the game, not within them. Infinite play is played for the sake of continued play. There are no winners and losers–play is always continued, even in death.

Finite games are played within infinite games. Infinite players freely enter into finite games. If one must play, one cannot play. In entering into a finite game, as long as they are to play the game seriously, they must choose to forget that they have chosen to enter into a finite game.

Throughout the book, Carse describes finite games as theatrical and infinite games as dramatic.

In the middle of a finite game, where competition is high and one is playing to win, to forget that one is playing is to take the game seriously. To remember that one is playing is to remember that every action one takes is a playful part of a finite game within an infinite game, and one has chosen to play by certain rules for certain reasons. In remembering, one can no longer win or lose the game because the game itself loses its seriousness and becomes a playful act.

“All the limitations of finite play are self-limitations.”

The style is very unique. Throughout the entire book, Carse only states facts. He does not make  any judgement calls or give advice for how one should live their lives. He only presents a vision of the world as infinite play and possibility, and lets you experience it to make your own judgement call.

Carse applies this playful vision of life through the lens of slavery, sex, politics, sports, death, nationalism, society, culture, and many other facets of life.

This post depicts an outlook on life strongly influenced by this book, since I was in the middle of reading it when the events in the post happened.

One of my major takeaways is that I am an infinite player in the game of life. In any finite game I find myself playing, whether it’s building a business, the laws of government, or romantic relationships, I must periodically remind myself that I have chosen to play it freely. I am always able to act freely and enter into or exit out of any finite game. Some finite games are beneficial, and some are not.

“The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish.”

This book heightened my sense to detect when to keep playing the game and when to stop.

Highly recommend.