Finite and Infinite Games
For these insights we are indebted to the work of Professor James Carse and for those of you who would like to look further into his work you will find links on our links page.
In a nutshell a Finite Game is one played with the purpose of winning (thus ending the game) and an Infinite Game is one played with the purpose of continuing the play.
Finite games have a definite beginning and ending. They are played with the goal of winning.
A finite game is resolved within the context of its rules, with a winner of the contest being declared and receiving a victory. The rules exist to ensure the game is finite. Examples are debates, sports, receiving a degree from an educational institution, culture, language, or war. Beginning to participate in a finite game requires conscious thought, and is voluntary, continued participation in a round of the game is involuntary. Even exiting the game early must be provided for by the rules. This may be likened to a zero sum game.
Infinite games, on the other hand, do not have a knowable beginning or ending. They are played with the goal of continuing play. An infinite game continues play, for sake of play. If the game is approaching resolution because of the rules of play, the rules must be changed to allow continued play. The rules exist to ensure the game is infinite. The only known example is life. Beginning to participate in an infinite game is involuntary, in that it doesn't require conscious thought. Continuing participation in the current round of game-play is voluntary. "It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely."
The rules of a finite game may not change.
The rules of an infinite game must change
Finite players play within boundaries
Infinite players play with the boundaries.
Finite players are serious
Infinite players are playful
A finite player plays to be powerful
An infinite player plays with strength
A finite player consumes time
An infinite player generates time
What we can see here is the underlying game of life in different forms. The basic evolutionary game that life plays with itself is infinite in that it is playing to continue because it is enjoying what it is doing. We can observe this in our own species in indigenous cultures where people are playing with the local balance of nature and food supply. A significant indicator of this approach is of course respect. This is typically expressed through just taking what you need from nature and also the practice of giving away to others. These actions of course help the life to roll onwards. The impulse towards the infinite game arises from the sense of connection and interrelatedness of all life.
The finite game in contrast is played with a sense of ‘wanting to win’ which in turn creates definite ends and boundaries. The impulse towards finite games comes from a sense of separation from others and nature.
What is useful about this insight is that if we look at human society it is easy to observe that the Game that is gaining ascendancy is the finite game. Politics and business are locked into it which generates the social and environmental consequences that we are currently experiencing. Indeed the current finite game of our own species looks like it may be so successful that it will completely ‘defeat’ nature and bring about a natural ‘end’ of some kind.
So we have to ask ourselves ….. what do we want?
Do we want our ‘game’ to come to an end or do we want it to continue?
If we want it to come to an end, then all we have to do is to carry on as we are now.
If we would like it to carry on then we need to change our current finite game over to an infinite game.
So the finite game based upon separation will bring about our end and the infinite game based upon connection will enable us and the rest of life to roll along into the future with only natural disasters to contend with!
Live Earth is the infinite game, based upon the recognition of connection, which if introduced , will transform and tonify finite games and render them harmonious and in balance with nature.
Live Earth is a cooperative and co-creative development, which invites all those that engage to take the forms and patterns and to make them your own and to endlessly adapt and change them to suit the particular circumstance. In this way through collaboration, the possibilities of the Game of Balance & Celebration will become fully expanded and explored for the Common Good.