Finite and Infinite Games

By James Carse

Rating: 8/10

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  • 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.

    Page: 3
  • To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.

    Page: 19
  • Infinite play is inherently paradoxical, just as finite play is inherently contradictory. Because it is the purpose of infinite players to continue the play, they do not play for themselves. The contradiction of finite play is that the players desire to bring play to an end for themselves. The paradox of infinite play is that the players desire to continue the play in others. The paradox is precisely that they play only when others go on with the game. Infinite players play best when they become least necessary to the continuation of play. It is for this reason they playas mortals. The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish

    Page: 25
  • Power is never one's own, and in that respect it shows the contradiction inherent in all finite play. I can be powerful only by not playing, by showing that the game is over. I can therefore have only what powers others give me. Power is bestowed by an audience after the play is complete. Power is contradictory, and theatrical.

    Page: 29
  • To speak meaningfully of a person's power is to speak of what that person has already completed in one or another closed field. To see power is to look backward in time. Inasmuch as power is determined by the outcome of a game, one does not win by being powerful; one wins to be powerful.

    Page: 29
  • Infinite players understand the inescapable likelihood of evil. They therefore do not attempt to eliminate evil in others, for to do so is the very impulse of evil itself, and therefore a contradiction. They only attempt paradoxically to recognize in themselves the evil that takes the form of attempting to eliminate evil elsewhere.

    Page: 33
  • Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live.

    Page: 37
  • The prizes won by its citizens can be protected only if the society as a whole remains powerful in relation to other societies. Those who desire the permanence of their prizes will work to sustain the permanence of the whole. Patriotism in one or several of its many forms (chauvinism, racism, sexism, nationalism, regionalism) is an ingredient in all societal play.

    Page: 42
  • Like a finite game, a society is numerically, spatially, and temporally limited. Its citizenship is precisely defined, its boundaries are inviolable, and its past is enshrined. The power of citizens in a society is determined by their ranking in games that have been played. A society preserves its memory of past winners. Its record-keeping functions are crucial to societal order. Large bureaucracies grow out of the need to verify the numerous entitlements of the citizens of that society.

    Page: 42
  • It is in the interest of a society therefore to encourage competition within itself, to establish the largest possible number of prizes, for the holders of prizes will be those most likely to defend the society as a whole against its competitors.

    Page: 43
  • A boundary is a phenomenon of opposition. It is the meeting place of hostile forces. Where nothing opposes there can be no boundary. One cannot move beyond a boundary without being resisted. This is why patriotism-that is, the desire to protect the power in a society by way of increasing the power of a societyis inherently belligerent. Since there can be no prizes without a society, no society without opponents, patriots must create enemies before we can require protection from them. Patriots can flourish only where boundaries are well-defined, hostile, and dangerous. The spirit of patriotism is therefore characteristically associated with the military or other modes of international conflict. Because patriotism is the desire to contain all other finite games within itself-that is, to embrace all horizons within a single boundary-it is inherently evil.

    Page: 57
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