Finite and Infinite Games

James P. Carse

When I first read the core idea behind the book, I was instantly hooked on the topic, so I was very motivated to dig into it quickly. That said, the idea is the only thing I liked ― although that one I liked very much.

The first few pages of the book were filled with heureka moments, almost every page unfolded a new perspective on the original idea or projected that to another dimension of life.

But after that first section until the very last page, it was a real struggle. There's no new information, only the same scenarios described with different parameters again and again, and what was even more annoying is that these scenarios were mostly bent and molded into artifical shapes, so that they reflect better their finite or infinite selves. I allowed myself to skip the last 2 chapters, which really meant that I was uncomfortable with reading.

In short, I think the whole book would be much better as an essay or as a publication on a blog, but I understand that in 1986 this wasn't the case and all the unnecessary information was required for the size of the book.

There are also parts which I disagree with, or at least find not naturally deductive enough. For example, Carse says ― and with this I agree ad hoc ― that multiple finite games can take place inside one infinite play and this infers that infinite games cannot exist inside finite plays. This one is clear and can even be described with the help of math. But later, on the behalf of the previous affirmation he says that "Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants", which, I think, is again just a stretched out point-of-view of something that might partly match his criterias, mostly to ensure his opinion that there is only one infinite game. I see no reason to accept this difference between the two scenarios: if finite games necessitate an audience that means that there is an audience, there are non-players outside the game, who can see into it, but do not interfere; I don't see a reason why this couldn't be true for infinite ones. I do understand that he tries to emphasize the difference between the size of the two types, but I generally don't believe in the need of this difference.

The book in one quote:

There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. Finite games are those instrumental activities - from sports to politics to wars - in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game - there is only one - includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game.