Finite vs. Infinite Games

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Description

From the Wikipedia:

"a finite game is played with the purpose of winning (thus ending the game), while an infinite game is played with the purpose of continuing the play.

Finite games have a definite beginning and ending. They are played with the goal of winning. A finite game is resolved within the context of its rules, with a winner of the contest being declared and receiving a victory. The rules exist to ensure the game is finite. Examples are debates, sports, receiving a degree from an educational institution, culture, language, or war. Beginning to participate in a finite game requires conscious thought, and is voluntary; continued participation in a round of the game is involuntary. Even exiting the game early must be provided for by the rules. This may be likened to a zero sum game (though not all finite games are literally zero sum, in that the sum of positive outcomes can vary).

Infinite games, on the other hand, do not have a knowable beginning or ending. They are played with the goal of continuing play. An infinite game continues play, for sake of play. If the game is approaching resolution because of the rules of play, the rules must be changed to allow continued play. The rules exist to ensure the game is infinite. The only known example is life. Beginning to participate in an infinite game is involuntary, in that it doesn't require conscious thought. Continuing participation in the current round of game-play is voluntary. "It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely" (p. 4)." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finite_and_Infinite_Games)


Discussion

Kevin Kelly:

"There are two kinds of games in the universe: finite games and infinite games. A finite game is played to win. Card games, poker rounds, games of chance, bets, sports such as football, board games such as Monopoly, races, marathons, puzzles, Tetris, Rubik's Cube, Scrabble, sudoku, online games such as World of Warcraft, and Halo -- all are finite games. The game ends when someone wins.

An infinite game, on the other hand, is played to keep the game going. It does not terminate because there is no winner.

Finite games require rules that remain constant. The game fails if the rules change during the game. Altering rules during play is unforgivable, the very definition of unfairness. Great effort, then, is taken in a finite game to spell out the rules beforehand and enforce them during the game.

An infinite game, however, can keep going only by changing its rules. To maintain open-endedness, the game must play with its rules.

A finite game such as baseball or chess or Super Mario must have boundaries -- spatial, temporal, or behavioral. So big, this long, do or don't do that.

An infinite game has no boundaries. James Carse, the theologian who developed these ideas in his brilliant treatise Finite and Infinite Games, says, "Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries."

Evolution, life, mind, and the technium are infinite games. Their game is to keep the game going. To keep all participants playing as long as possible. They do that, as all infinite games do, by playing around with the rules of play. The evolution of evolution is just that kind of play.

Unreformed weapon technologies generate finite games. They produce winners (and losers) and cut off options. Finite games are dramatic; think sports and war. We can think of hundreds of more exciting stories about two guys fighting than we can about two guys at peace. But the problem with those exciting 100 stories about two guys fighting is that they all lead to the same end -- the demise of one or both of them -- unless at some point they turn and cooperate. However, the one boring story about peace has no end. It can lead to a thousand unexpected stories -- maybe the two guys become partners and build a new town or discover a new element or write an amazing opera. They create something that will become a platform for future stories. They are playing an infinite game. Peace is summoned all over the world because it births increasing opportunities and, unlike a finite game, contains infinite potential.

The things in life we love most -- including life itself -- are infinite games. When we play the game of life, or the game of the technium, goals are not fixed, the rules are unknown and shifting. How do we proceed? A good choice is to increase choices. As individuals and as a society we can invent methods that will generate as many new good possibilities as possible. A good possibility is one that will generate more good possibilities . . . and so on in the paradoxical infinite game. The best "open-ended" choice is one that leads to the most subsequent "openended" choices. That recursive tree is the infinite game of technology.

The goal of the infinite game is to keep playing -- to explore every way to play the game, to include all games, all possible players, to widen what is meant by playing, to spend all, to hoard nothing, to seed the universe with improbable plays, and if possible to surpass everything that has come before." (http://www.realitysandwich.com/playing_infinite_game)