There are at least two kinds of games.

One could be called finite, the other infinite.

The finite game is played for the purpose of winning, and thereby ending the game.

An infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing the play … and bringing as many persons as possible into the play.

Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.

Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful.

Finite players try to control the game, predict everything that will happen, and set the outcome in advance. They are serious and determined about getting that outcome. They try to fix the future based on the past.

Infinite players enjoy being surprised. Continuously running into something they didn’t know will ensure that the game will go on. The meaning of the past changes depending on what happens in the future.

All games are inherently voluntary. There might be consequences of not playing, but there is always a choice required. There are certain rules and boundaries that appear to be externally defined, and you choose to follow them or not. If you stop following them you aren’t playing the game any longer.

There is no rule that says you have to follow the rules, and there is no rule that says you have to play. If you have to play, you cannot really play.

All finite games have rules. If you follow the rules you are playing the game. If you don’t follow the rules you aren’t playing.

Infinite players play with rules and boundaries. They aren’t taking them serious, and they can never be trapped by them, because they use rules and boundaries as part of their playing.

Players can do what they do seriously, because they must do it, because they must survive to the end, and are afraid of the consequences of not playing or not winning. Or, players can do everything they do playfully, always knowing they have a choice, having no need to survive the way they are, allowing every element of the play to transform them, taking pleasure in every surprise they meet. Those are the differences between finite and infinite players.

You can play finite games within an infinite game. You can not play infinite games within a finite game.

There is only but one infinite game.

Paraphrased from James P. Carse, Finite and infinite games: A Vision of Life in Play and Possibility

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