Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse

I was intrigued by the premise of the book, which introduces a theory of games (emphatically not the game theory of economics), in which there are two kinds of games: short, well defined finite ones where the goal is to win, and infinite, rule-bendy ones where the goal is to keep playing. Great premise but I couldn't get into it. Despite being only ~100 small, sparse pages, I had to cut it off after about twenty. Here's why:

"Dramatically, one chooses to be a mother; theatrically, one takes on the role of mother."

Is this profound or what? My impression is that the author is a deliberate obscurantist. The whole book reads like a collection of Zen koans. But unlike koans, which are simple on the surface but attempt conceal something profound, the surface level is also very dense. The author casually cites Plato, Freud, Hegel Marx, Jesus, Sartre, Thoreau, Shaw, Proust, etc. The book is full of passages like the above that are meaningless without defining terms precisely.

Further, the author babbles a lot about theory, rarely producing actual examples of infinite games. Presumably life is an infinite game, but are there other examples? What good is a grand theoretical framework that only has one instance? Lastly, given the author's definition, infinite games seem hardly game-like at all.