Finite and Infinite Games – by James P Carse

Finite and Infinite Games – by James P Carse

This book starts with some general definitions of the economics theory of finite and infinite games. Things like finite games having defined rules and players, precise start times, and the way to which a game ends and a winner is declared. Contract that with the infinite games that are constantly evolving so that they never end.

Honestly, by itself, the theory and definitions of game theory aren’t that interesting. But James Carse takes these ideas and applied them to all different areas of life, from the ownership of property, to professional life, to nature, technology, and even sexuality.


Grab a copy of the book here:


Here is a dot point summary of the book!


Chapter 1 : There are at least two kinds of games


Finite Games

  • Finite games have a definitive ending – temporal boundaries
  • All players must agree on these boundaries
  • Only one person can win a finite game
  • Not everyone can be a corporation president, although some who have competed for that prize may be vice presidents or district managers


Infinite Games

  • Of finite games they play, they play freely, If they must play , they cannot play
  • Where finite games are externally defined, infinite games are internally defined
  • The time of an infinite game is not world time, but time created within the play itself
  • Since each play of an infinite game eliminates boundaries, it opens to players a new horizon of time


  • Finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game
  • Infinite players regard their wins and loses in whatever finite games they play as but moments in continuing play



  • Rules in an finite game cannot change during play,
  • Rules in an infinite game must change
  • Rules of an infinite game are changed to prevent anyone from winning the game and to bring as many persons as possible into play



  • Finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries
  • Finite players are unaware of the absolute freedom and will come to think that whatever they do, they must do
  • Finite players must be selected. No one is forced to remain a lawyer or engineer or rodeo performer after being selected for those roles
  • Constant attentiveness of finite players to the progress of the competition can lead them to believe that every move they make , they must make
  • It may appear the prizes for winning are indispensable, that without them life is meaningless or impossible


Autonomy – Choose finite play by choice – being oppressed

  • We must concede whoever takes up the commanded role does so by choice. Certainly the price of refusing is high, but there is a price at all points to the fact that oppressors themselves acknowledge even the weakest of their subjects agree to be supressed


  • Finite play is limited from without
  • Those limitations must be chosen by the player since no one is under any necessity to play a finite game


  • Finite players have the actual freedom to step off the field of play at any time. As finite players we somehow veil this freedom from ourselves
  • Self veiling is present in all finite games. Players must intentionally forget the inherently voluntary nature of their play, else all competitive effort will desert them


  • Words and feelings belong to the actress.
  • The issue is whether we are ever willing to drop the veil and openly acknowledge, if only to ourselves, that we have freely chosen to face the world through a mask


  • Finite games can be played within an infinite game, infinite players do not eschew the performed roles of finite play




  • It is the desire of finite players to be Master players, to be perfectly skilled in their play that nothing can surprise them
  • If finite players are not prepared to meet each of the possible moves of an opponent, our chances of losing most certainly increase
  • Surprise in infinite play is the triumph of the future over the past
  • With each surprise, the past reveals a new beginning in itself
  • Inasmuch as the future is always surprising, the past is always changing’




  • Finite players must appear to be something other than what they are
  • Everything about their appearance must be concealing
  • All moves must be deceptive, feints, distractions, misdirections
  • Because infinite players prepare themselves to be surprised by the future, they play in complete openness (Not attached to an outcome)
  • In an openness as in vulnerability, exposing ones changing identity
  • Exposing one’s ceaseless growth , the dynamic self that has yet to be




  • What one wins in a finite game is a title
  • The effectiveness of a title depends on its visibility to others
  • When a person is known by title, the attention is on a completed past, on a game already concluded. A title effectively takes a person out of play



  • Life is not play, but the outcome of play for finite players
  • Finite players play to live, they do not live their playing



  • Finite play for life is serious, the infinite play of life is joyous



  • How much resistance can I overcome relative to others
  • Power is a concept that belongs only in finite play
  • I can only have only what powers others give me
  • Power is contradictory and theatrical
  • If we defer to titled winners, it is only because we regard ourselves as losers
  • To do so is freely to take part in the theatre of power


  • How do finite games contend with power?
  • Power is concerned with what has already happened, strength is with what has yet to happen
  • Power is restricted to a relatively small number of selected persons


  • Strength is paradoxical. I am strong not because I can force others to do what I wish. But because I can allow them to do what they wish in the course of my play with them



  • Infinite players understand the inescapable likelihood of evil
  • They therefore do not attempt to eliminate evil in others, to do so would be the very impulse of evil itself
  • They attempt to only recognize the evil in themselves


Chapter 2 – no one can play a game alone



  • Wealth is not so much possessed as it is performed



  • A society (finite) is defined by its boundaries
  • Every move a finite player makes is towards a boundary


  • A culture (infinite) is defined by its horizons
  • Every move an infinite player makes is towards the horizon
  • Every moment of an infinite game therefore presents a new vision, a new range of possibilities


Chapter 3



  • Infinite players do not play within sexual boundaries, but with sexual boundaries
  • They are concerned not with power but with vision


Chapter 4 – A finite game occurs within a world



  • A finite game does not have its own time, it exists in a worlds time
  • Early in a game time seems abundant, and there appears a greater freedom to develop future strategies
  • Late in a game, time is being rapidly consumed
  • Later in the game errors are more disastrous
  • We look back on youth as times of our lives as there were so many possibilities



  • For the finite player, freedom is a function of time (as we get older we lose freedom)



  • Time does not pass for an infinite player, each moment of time is a new beginning
  • An infinite player does not work for the purpose of filling time with work, but of filling work with time


Chapter 5 – Nature is the realm of the unspeakable

  • We experience the unspeakability of nature as its utter indifference to human culture


Chapter 6 – We control nature for societal reasons

  • The contradiction in our relation to nature is that the more we attempt to force its agreement with our own designs, the more subject we are to its indifference, the more vulnerable to its unseeing forces
  • The more power we exert on nature, the more powerless we become
  • Nature displays not only indifference to human existence, but its difference as well




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