Humanity’s game

James Carse describes two types of games: “A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” Humanity, at an individual level, engages in both.

For example, most typical notions of “success” are equivalent to the winning of a particular game. For some “success” is wealth. For others, it is hierarchical stature and respect from an audience or from peers. No matter the manifestation, the search for “success” is a finite game. Others don’t play it. Others are less concerned with notions of “success” and instead seek fulfilment. They prefer to play an infinite game, and devote their time, energy and attention to discovering more and more interesting, intriguing ways to play. It’s why creatives make new things, why writers switch genres and experiment with the form of their prose, why engineers tinker and experiment, why we seek new inputs.

That’s humanity at the individual level. What about the collective level, humanity as a species? What type of game do we play? Not a finite game, for sure.

The aim of a finite game is victory. And once victory is achieved, what happens? That particular game stops. And while humanity does seem to seek dominion over its environment, as a collective, it doesn’t want the game to end. Humanity, like all species, is primarily concerned with perpetuating itself. It exists to keep existing. For example, we’re concerned with the wellbeing of the Earth’s environment not because we care for it, but because without it, we die. Everything, every pursuit, every venture, is subordinate to our ability to survive, to remain alive.

Humanity’s game, as a species, is infinite; we play to keep playing, no matter the cost.