Finite and Infinite Games by James C. Carse

“A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility”


Notes on the Reading

Chapter 1

Finite games are played to win

Infinite games are played to continue to play


Finite Games end when the players agree.


Chapter 2

“Whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play cannot play.”


Chapter 3

Finite games have boundaries.


Chapter 4

Date and time are externally defined


Chapter 5

Only One Winner


Chapter 6

Finite is like infinite in only one respect: “Whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play cannot play.”

Otherwise CONTRAST


Infinite = no boundaries, no definition

Only play to keep everyone playing

No way to say start


Chapter 7

Finite games can be played within an infinite game but infinite games cannot be played within finite games


Chapter 8

Finite = rules = contracts

Restrain freedom

Determine winners


Chapter 9

Rules are rules bc players agree before play



Chapter 10

Finite = rules can’t change during play

CRITICAL distinction. Infinite game rules MUST change during play to adapt

Rules of living language compared to rules of debate COOL ANALOGY


Chapter 11

Infinite games do have rules. Not random changes. Rules designed to maintain continuous play must adapt to meet goal


“finite players play within boundaries. Infinite players play with boundaries.


Chapter 12

Finite players often think they MUST bc: play privilege can be cancelled, can be won, prizes indispensible

In extreme examples it can be true. Ex. Slavery


Finite play is limited by external factors but players chose to follow rules so finite play is self limitation


Chapter 13

Account for large gap between actual freedom to quit and experienced necessity to stay in the struggle: players “veil” the freedom from themselves


b/c it requires seriousness ex. Actress


self-veiling is not bad but can we ever truly let it go?


Self-veiling is a contradictory act. Free suspension of our freedom


Chapter 14

Bc finite games can be played within infinite ones, infinite game players don’t mind the rules of finite play but they tend to approach the games without as much seriousness


Seriousness is related to roles or abstractions ex. Police = expected script


Infinite play is NOT frivolous


We relate to each other as free persons


Everything is important


Play and accept consequences knowing there could be a cost to oneself


Infinite play cannot be abstracted concrete persons play with concrete persons no one is playing a predetermined role


Chapter 15

Finite = theatrical – they know what they are doing, take on role

Infinite = dramatic, chose to be


Chapter 16

Script of finite play not the same as rules. Script made within rules but variable and composed during play

Finite play is dramatic within the boundaries of the rules

Finite players desire to remove drama

A Master player plays as if the game is already past





Chapter 17

Surprise a key element in finite play

Master player has advantage bc he already knows


Infinite players play expecting to be surprised

Surprises cause finite play to end but are the reason for infinite play to continue

Infinite play surprise is triumph f the future since past doesn’t matter



All move of finite player must be deceptive to avoid surprise and win

Infinite play is open because surprise is good


To be prepared against surprise is to be TRAINED

To be prepared for surprise is to be EDUCATED


Chapter 18

Finite Games win Titles


Chapter 19

Since Finite play cannot be repeated

Principal function of society to validate titles and ensure their continued recognition


Chapter 20

Connection with titles that shows the importance of death

Finite game must be won by a terminal move


Player looses = death as a player = declares a person utterly without title


Death in Life is a mode of existence in which one has ceased all play

Life in Death concerns those who are timeless because their Titles are timeless and may not be extinguished by death


Winners of finite games achieve not an afterlife but an afterworld, not continuing existence but continuing recognition of their titles


Chapter 21

Some games do seem to have Life and Death Stakes

Extreme Bondage. One only escapes and ends play through death

Finite player life is an award then death is defeat

If the losers are dead then the dead are losers


Life is the prize so life is deserved, bestowed, won

Contradiction of finite play


Chapter 22

Death for finite players is abstract not concrete

We live only for the sake of winning an abstraction

Immortality is the triumph of abstraction

State of unrelieved theatricality

Ones actions have no consequences beyond themselves


Chapter 23

Infinite players die. Death is within the boundaries of infinite play

Death of an infinite player is dramatic. It does not end play

They do not play for life they live for play

Finite play is serious infinite play is joyous

“they die at the right time”


Chapter 24

Infinite play is inherently paradoxical while finite play is inherently contradictory

The joy is in learning to start something we cannot finish


Chapter 25

Finite players get titles but infinite players have nothing but their names

Titles are given at the end names at the beginning

Names are about what the person will do titles are about what they have done

Titles are abstractions names are concrete

When identified as winners names can gain the force of titles


Chapter 26

Titles point backward

Origin in the unrepeated past

Titles are theatrical


Chapter 27

The Titled are powerful. Others are expected to yield

Exercise of power always presupposes resistance

Power is a measure of comparison

Power only exists in finite play

Power is bestowed by an audience after the game is complete

Power is contradictory and theatrical.


Chapter 28

We do not play against reality we play according to reality


Chapter 29

Infinite players look forward, not to victory, but to continued play

A finite player plays to be powerful an infinite player plays with strength

A strong player causes others to change because they wish to. By playing with a strong player they are allowed to do as they wish


Chapter 30

Power damages infinite play

Infinite players thinking

cannot always top it

Evil is the termination of infinite play

Unheard silence is not necessarily death but it is the loss of the players voice


Chapter 31

Evil is never intended to be evil. The contradiction is that evil occurs because it wishes to eliminate evil

Infinite players do not attempt to eliminate evil in others because to do so is the very impulse of evil itself and a contradiction to infinite play. Instead they seek to recognize evil in themselves and eliminate it


Chapter 32

Can’t play a game alone

No selfhood where there is no community

Essential fluidity of humanness that is irreconcilable with finite play


No One Can Play a Game Alone

Chapter 33

No Selfhood where there is no community

We cannot relate to anyone who is not relating to us


Chapter 34

Bismarck called politics the art of the possible

Doing the distasteful to enlarge the realm of the possible

infinite players have little use for this thinking

politics = to have rules

political – to resist rules and adapt to eliminate societal ends

Politics is a form of theatricality in which the politicians play roles for others

Infinite players make a distinction between society and culture

society remains a free choice the same way a player can walk off the field when engaged in finite play


Chapter 35

a large society has a wide variety of games

power in society is determined by ranking in the games

prizes protected so long as society remains powerful in relation to other societies

Society is a finite game – Culture is an infinite game

Deviancy is the essence of culture

Cultural deviation does not return to the past but helps us to move forward


Chapter 36

bestowal of property is used for self persuasion of citizens


Chapter 37

Society is necessary because it validates titles to properties

no force establishes agreement. Agreement establishes force


Chapter 38

Property must be seen to be consumed


Chapter 39

Property must be shown that what is gained is not more than what is earned

If wealth is not earned it will be challenged

Property is meant to reclaim the past


Chapter 40

Wealth is not so much possessed as it is performed


Chapter 41

Property is protected less by power than by theatre


Chapter 42

Societal thinkers may not overlook the importance of poesies but neither may they underestimate its danger!

Society treats its poietai with considerable ambivalence

Protect art from people but to protect people from art


Chapter 43

Art that is used against society gives up is power as infinite play


Chapter 44

The creative is found in anyone who is prepared for surprise

They are not makers of actualities but of possibilities


Chapter 45

Rules are an expression of agreement not a requirement to agree

Patriotism is belligerent


Chapter 46

Each person who enters a culture simultaneously enters into a new context and changes the context


Chapter 47

Culture is not anything that persons do but rather what they do with each other INTERACTION


Chapter 48

For a bonded society, enemies are necessary and war is likely


Chapter 49

Plato suggested that some of the poets be driven out because they weakened the power of the guardians


Chapter 50

Metaphysics is about the real but it is abstract.

Poetics is about the making


I am the Genius of Myself

Chapter 51

You have what you have only by releasing it to others

To Think or to act originally is to erase the boundary of the self


Chapter 52

As the Geniuses we are, we do not look but see.


Chapter 53

As the origin of myself, I am not also the cause of myself as though I were the product of my own action



Chapter 54

Not allowing the past to be the past might be the primary source of seriousness for finite players

We can be moved only by way of our veils. We can be touched only through our veils.


Chapter 55

Whoever is touched is healed


Chapter 56

When I am healed as a person I am restored to the center in a way that my freedom is not compromised


Chapter 57

One cannot touch without touching sexually

We cannot initiate reproduction but can only be carried along with it


Chapter 58

The most strenuous things are done for sexual property. It is for this that wars are fought.


Chapter 59

Finite sexuality is a veiled struggle that participants aim to win


Chapter 60

Infinite players have no interest in seduction or restricting freedom


Chapter 61

There is nothing hidden about infinite sexuality. It is all exposed and therefore not serious


Chapter 62

Infinite lovers do not have “private parts” or regard their bodies as having forbidden zones.