“What will undo any boundary is the awareness that it is our vision, and not what we are viewing, that is limited.” ~ James P. Carse In his book Finite and Infinite Games, James P. Carse demonstrates a way of looking at the world that is truly unique. He breaks human reality down to at least two different games: finite and infinite.
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, even at the expense of play itself. An infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing play, for the sake of play itself. While there are endless finite games (chess, football, war, romance, politics, religion) there is only one infinite game: the game of life.
Finite players play to win, and are often superficially rewarded for their play. Infinite players play to continue playing, and are often cosmically rewarded for their play. “It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play, cannot play.”
Here are six signs you may be an infinite player.
1.) You have the ability to transform boundaries into horizons
“He who lives horizonally is never somewhere, but always in passage” ~ James P. Carse
You realize –balls to bones, ovaries to marrow– that boundaries are a “phenomenon of opposition,” while horizons are a “phenomenon of vision.” Where finite players play within boundaries, you play with boundaries. You play with boxes by actually thinking outside of them instead of just saying you’re going to do so. You play with comfort zones, stretching them in order to persistently challenge yourself, even if that means inadvertently stretching the comfort zones of finite players.
You play with mental paradigms, questioning them to the nth degree until cognitive dissonance is literally stinking up the joint. You are adept at playing multiple games, wearing multiple masks, and practicing multiple songs and dance, all of them finite games within the overall infinite game. You are able to do this because you realize that all the petty finite games are but trivial sideshows of the only game that really matters, the one true infinite game: the game of life.
2.) You understand the absolute necessity for changing the rules of the game
“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein
You are compelled to change the rules rather than keep them the same. You realize that the only fundamental constant in this universe is change. Indeed, change is the essence of the game of life. As such, you understand that in order for the infinite game to continue it must constantly be changing. The worst thing that can happen is for the rules to become rigid, stagnant, or dogmatic, since that would mean the end of all play, because play must be free, otherwise it is not play at all.
And so you adapt and overcome to the vicissitudes of life and to the many finite games that pop in and out of the unfolding human drama. You are adept at holding those games accountable that seek to become “the only game in town.” You poke holes in all sacred ideologies. You question all games where the finite players declare the rules of their game to be unquestionable.
You plant seeds of doubt in the minds of all finite players who falsely believe in certainty, while comforting those who are uncertain. You realize as Plato did: “For a state in which the law is respected, democracy is the worst form of government, but if the law is not respected, it is the best.”
3.) You play with jest as opposed to seriousness
“There is something in the nature of all play that is not serious, but at the same time can be sincere.” ~ Alan Watts
Where finite players play in all seriousness, the infinite player plays with sincere jest. Infinite play resounds with a kind of divine laughter. You have learned to laugh in this way. Your play is sacred and so too is your sense of humor. You have no problem playing the joker card on any and all self-serious card players. You are jester-perfect in your ability to laugh at the imperfections of the human condition.
Fallibility is the wave you use to surf over all the floundering finite players vainly seeking infallibility. You find all finite games to be trivial and petty and you handle them with sincere mockery, even if that means that, by mocking the game, the particular game comes to an end.
Mockery and tomfoolery are an important and vital function of the overall infinite game, especially when the accountability derived from such mockery extinguishes the potential for future evil. Indeed, the more finite games mocked and poked fun at, the more vital and sacred the overall infinite game becomes.
4.) You are internally defined as opposed to externally defined
“When individuals try to balance self-interest with a consideration of the bigger picture, they discover, as Socrates did, that deep self-interest actually includes
concern for the good of the whole.” ~ Louis G. Herman
You are an interdependent agent. Your codependency of the past, with any particular finite game, has been reconditioned into an independent ability to engage with the ever-changing infinite game of life. This independency is not externally defined, but internally defined.
Indeed, it has blossomed into full-on interdependence with the greater cosmos. With this interdependent understanding you see how all things are interconnected; especially how all finite games are connected, and even how finite players stubbornly try to disconnect each other in order to “win at any cost.” You realize that their finite zero-sum games are divisive systems that only keep them separated and segregated, thus destroying any potential for equality, creativity and diversity.
Like Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” You see how their finite games are preventing them from seeing the bigger picture of the infinite game. So it is that you are constantly trying to reconnect the disconnected (sometimes even despite them) to the awe-inspiring joy of infinite play.
5.) You play to generate time instead of consume it
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” ~ Rumi
Where finite players seek to consume time, you seek to generate time. This means you are devastatingly clear with your intent. Your attitude toward the infinite game of life is obvious so as not to waste any time. You don’t pull punches. Your every word is a full disclosure of truth. You say what you mean and mean what you say. You are impeccable with your word.
Your honesty is paramount, because you understand that only through your honesty can others be free to decide what they can (or cannot) do with their time regarding you. So it is that you are brutally honest with your disposition toward the human condition. You are clear with your commitment to the infinite game, even at the expense of all finite games. You understand that infinite play requires complete vulnerability.
So you initiate your own actions in such a way that others respond by initiating their own action in kind. Where finite players are waiting for their turn to speak, you have learned how to listen with conscious intent, which generates time as space for the dialogue to continue, and healthy dialogue is the heart of good play.
6.) You are concerned with vision rather than power
“Real confidence has no bluster or bombast. It’s not rooted in a desire to seem better than everyone else and it’s not driven by a fear of appearing weak. Real confidence settles in when you have a clear vision of exactly what you need to do. Real confidence blooms as you wield the skills and power you have built through your hard work and discipline.” –Rob Brezsny
A finite player plays for power, while an infinite player plays with power. In your roll as infinite player, you have discovered sheer unadulterated joy in playing with power and with people’s notions of power. Where finite players want people to see how powerful they are, you want people to see how powerful they are. While the finite player brags about winning and fawns over trophies, accolades, and titles, you are busy with your passionate hard work and unwavering discipline.
Your confidence is focused and clear on what you need to do in order to keep the infinite game vital, healthy and, most importantly, fun. So you embrace a healthy mockery of the power-that-be. You use power as a tool to leverage vision into action, rather than as a weapon to force people into action. Unlike finite players, you see how play, good humor, laughter, and especially all of these combined, are essentially more powerful than power itself. Indeed, they are ways of getting power over power.
Being concerned with vision rather than power leads to courage, which leads to liberation, which leads to the need to empower and liberate others, which leads to other visionary people, which leads to accountability, which leads to sustainability, which leads to a healthy community for all, and therefore a healthy infinite game for all.
Like Paul Tillich said, “It takes tremendous courage to resist the lure of appearances. The power of being which is manifest in such courage is so great that the gods tremble in fear of it.” Let them tremble! Our infinite play depends upon it, and the play must go on. Where the finite player aims for eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal rebirth.