Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility

Reviewed by Deane Barker tags: philosophy

This book wasn’t what I thought it was. I found it in a Hacker News thread about “books that made you look at the world differently.” Also, I kinda thought it was about game theory, which I’m genuinely interested in.

This is a book about philosophy. The author posits that there are two types of games: (1) finite, where there is an ending, and the goal is to definitively win; and (2) infinite, where the goal is just to keep playing. The infinite game is, of course, life itself.

And then he goes and on and on and on. It was a short book, but beyond that first chapter, things get a little weird. The author attempts to be developing a theory for the entirety of out of this single idea. He gets in to love, sex, nature, communication, etc. You would need to read this book 2-3 times, likely with a group of other people, to really get into it.

I refused to stop reading, because I was desperate to not not get it. When I was done, I did some reading on it, and listened to a podcast, and that helped me get the book a little more (or at least know that I didn’t totally misunderstand it), but I’m still a little confused. The author just kind of lost credibility as he went on and on. I feel like less would have been more here, and his desire to be so expansive was his downfall.

Or maybe I just didn’t get it?

(I paged through the reviews here on Goodreads, and they are interestingly mostly grouped into 1-star and 5-star reviews. It’s a polarizing book.)

Book Info

James P. Carse

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