Finite and Infinite Heroism: Changing the Game of Life

“What limits people is that they don’t have the f*cking nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it.” ~ Tom Robbins

This article will introduce a new way of playing the game of life inspired by James P. Carse and his book Finite and Infinite Games, which demonstrates a way of looking at the world that is truly unique.

Kevin Kelly praised the book for “altering my thinking about life, the universe, and everything.” In the book, Carse breaks human reality down two different games: finite and infinite.

As I explained in Finite and Infinite Lovers and followed up with Six Signs You May Be an Infinite Player, 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, marriage, politics, religion) there is only one infinite game: the game of life. Your life. My life. All 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.

But, as Carse said, “It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play, cannot play.”

Indeed. Whoever must play, is a slave.

The difference between Players and Heroes

“He who lives horizonally is never somewhere, but always in passage” ~ James P. Carse

By using the finite and infinite players as archetypes applied to the concept of heroism, we come up with two different types of heroism: finite and infinite heroism, which changes the paradigm in interesting ways.

A finite player can become a finite hero, but it is rare. Likewise, a finite hero can become an infinite hero, but it is also rare. Whereas an infinite player is more likely to become an infinite hero if given enough time.

The critical difference between Players and Heroes is action. Both finite and infinite players are merely players. Both Finite and infinite heroes are built for courageous action.

Here’s a basic breakdown of the four types

Finite Player (typical person)

Possesses average abilities, intelligence, and creativity but is limited by their cultural paradigm. Not courageous. Tiny comfort zone. Inactively playing.

Finite Hero (typical hero)

Possesses advanced abilities, intelligence, and creativity but is limited by their cultural paradigm. Courageous within their tiny comfort zone. Built for specific courageous action.

Infinite Player (atypical person)

Possesses above average abilities, intelligence, and creativity but is not limited by their cultural paradigm. Not courageous. Expansive comfort zone. Proactively playing.

Infinite Hero (cosmic hero)

Possesses advanced abilities, intelligence, and creativity but is not limited by their cultural paradigm. Courageous inside and outside an expansive comfort zone. Built for universal courageous action.

Finite versus Infinite Heroism

“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.” ~ James P. Carse

Where finite heroism is prepared against surprise, infinite heroism is prepared for surprise. Finite heroism is conventional; infinite heroism is cosmic. Finite heroism is contained within a cultural paradigm; infinite heroism transcends the cultural paradigm.

Where finite heroes act only within boundaries, infinite heroes play with boundaries and act outside them. A finite hero perceives a boundary as a “phenomenon of opposition,” whereas an infinite hero perceives a boundary as a “phenomenon of vision,” thus transforming it into a horizon that can be evolved into.

Infinite heroes play with comfort zones, stretching them in order to persistently challenge themselves. Even if that means inadvertently stretching the comfort zones of finite players, or even finite heroes.

Where a finite hero is courageous within their comfort zone, an infinite hero is courageous for the purpose of stretching their comfort zone. Finite heroes need the comfort zone secure in order to act; infinite heroes are secure acting inside or outside the comfort zone.

An infinite hero can overcome boxes by actually thinking outside of them instead of just saying they’re going to. Where finite heroes intellectually specialize, infinite heroes are autodidacts. Finite heroes learn for the purpose of receiving answers; infinite heroes learn for the purpose of questioning answers.

A finite hero is possessive, conditional, restricted, and dependent (or codependent) upon rules and regulations. An infinite hero is non-possessive, unconditional, free, and independent (or interdependent) despite rules and regulations.

Where a finite hero is free within the rules of the cultural game, an infinite hero is free no matter what cultural rules surround him. A finite hero is law-abiding even at the expense of human health; an infinite hero makes human health paramount despite the law. A finite hero obeys human laws while being ignorant to universal laws; an infinite hero disobeys human laws if they violate universal laws.

A finite hero succumbs to and upholds the preexisting codependent cultural dictates, whereas an infinite hero liberates themselves from such dictates in order to interdependently evolve. A finite hero is self-righteous; an infinite hero is self-overcoming.

Where a finite hero’s strategy is vertical, an infinite hero’s strategy is horizontal. A finite hero seeks power and control; an infinite hero releases control and seeks empowerment. Where a finite hero uses power over others to gain more power, an infinite hero uses power over others to gain prestige.

A finite hero meets an enemy with power and violence; an infinite hero meets resistance with poiesis and vision, holding violence for self-defense only. Where a finite hero seeks invulnerability, an infinite hero seeks absolute vulnerability.

Ultimately, a finite hero changes for himself; an infinite hero changes despite himself. A finite hero can become an infinite hero with enough work, whereas an infinite hero can don the mask of a finite hero at any time and act within a particular finite game while regarding it as but a moment in continuing play or action.

As James P. Carse said, “Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players (and thus infinite heroes) live.”

Image source:

Adranus Fire Fist
Blue and red yin yang
Blue and red fist

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Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
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