The Book That Changed My Life: Finite and Infinite Games.

From the first part of the title, you may expect this blog will implore you to read the Bible, Koran, or any of the other holy writings that have changed people’s lives. Perhaps your second thought is that I’m recommending a self-help book that turned my life around.

Sorry.The book that changed my life was misplaced in a Canberra library. Let me explain.

I read spy novels, mainly Le Carre and Len Deighton. And it was Len Deighton that got me into trouble. He wrote a book called Billion Dollar Brain (made into a movie): a spy book about war games.

And I loved it. I wanted to find out more. So the next week, I wandered over to the mathematical section of the library and selected three books. Two were game simulation books and one was James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games. I still don’t know how it got there. It was misplaced for a reason.

I slept my way through the first two books. Then I opened Finite and Infinite Games. This book is another way of looking at philosophy (on steroids) written by a theologian.

I should have known better.

In a simple and elegant way, it described life as two kinds of game: one finite much like a sport and one infinite: a game that never ends. One plays finite games to win, one plays infinite games to continue the game. It sounded contradictory or paradoxical. But I wanted to know more.

So I kept reading. I found the purpose of an infinite game was to continue that game through others. Any boundaries such as race, colour, creed, even death had to be overcome to continue the game.  Any rules that enforce said boundaries must be modified to include new players. Such rules are like an evolving language that has its own history: much like a story that tells itself.

In all of this, I was left wondering: there are many finite games but where are the infinite ones? And it wasn’t until the very end that I received my answer which was this: “there is but one infinite game.” (Carse, Finite and Infinite Games, 1986).

We’re playing it right now. It’s called life. Do you want to play?

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