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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Give the guy a break; he's trying to start an infinite game here!, 17 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Finite and Infinite Games (Paperback)
Judging by the diversity of reviews, people out there tend to be polarised by this book Finite and Infinite Games (FIG). After reading it, I can completely understand why.

Reasons to hate FIG:

Many of the points and especially the distinctions Carse makes seem to exist on a purely grammatical level. Never mind grammar; sometimes the typeface alone suffices for Carse to make bold with meaning (i.e. italics). "Whoever must play, cannot play."

Carse zooms off on many topical flights of fancy that seem more appropriate for New-Agey texts, such as sex, politics and environmentalism. This book takes 180 pages but the essence of it could have been squeezed into about 80. Maybe even a half dozen pages of diagrams or charts would have sufficed.

FIGs structure apparently apes a classic text by Ludwig Wittgenstein, the twentieth century's most significant philosopher. In his 'early' phase, Wittgenstein wrote the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in a numerically-structured fashion, reasoning from axiom to implications. It was one of the most significant works of the time. Carse seems to have Wittgenstein in mind as a model, as he mentions him overtly (p. 131) and contradicts him covertly (p. 108, "A world is not all that is the case..."). For any philosopher to compare himself to Wittgenstein in this way is an embarrassment, unless he has won the Nobel Prize or equivalent.

The style is dense and near aphoristic. That's fine if you are Nietzsche or Pascal and you make your meaning plainer elsewhere. But FIG is all we have to inform and guide us on Carse's thought. We need more; more context, more proof of assumptions, more definitions. None is forthcoming.

As I glanced through the table on contents, I relished tackling some of the chapters. I was hugely disappointed with their actual contents more than once. "I Am the Genius of Myself". Excellent, sounds right up my alley. But after reading the chapter, although it contained many powerful insights, I'm left none the wiser as to what my genius might be, or even what a genius is.

The binding on this publication is pathetic. As I read it, I was scared to open it fully in case it fell apart.

Reasons to love FIG:

Hooray, a book about games that doesn't mention computers, MUDs or MMORGPS!

Hooray, a book about games from a philosopher! Philosophical books on the general subject of games, never mind philosophical books with a particular vision, are very thin on the ground. Along with FIG, the only other equivalent I am currently aware of is Bernard Suits' 'The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia'.

Carse's game metaphor - if metaphor it is - succeeds in offering a deep interpretation of two dichotomous worldviews. These worldviews have been described by other disciplines in others ways e.g. egoism v altruism (ethics), competition v cooperation (economics), zero sum v non-zero sum (mathematics). Carse's finite v infinite model collects all these together under a larger analysis.

What I take from Carse is that the game motif is not in fact a metaphor for our world but a literal description of what is going on. How he explains common facts of life - rank, rules, titles, opponents - is a reversal of 'gamification'. He does not apply game elements to life but peels back surface seriosity to reveal the game elements in life.

How to live as an 'infinite gamer' is not to engage in a specific form of activity. It is certainly not to engage in "playing at" (p.19) or "playing around" (p. 46). This is perhaps what we usually label 'fun' or what Carse calls "a harmless disregard for social constraints", play with no consequence, play as entertainment, relaxation, amusement, diversion, and comic relief. Carse is careful not to exclude these activities from infinite play as long as they are not identified with it.

One of the ways to grasp what Carse means by infinite play is to contrast it to seriousness, something Carse does throughout the book. For seriousness lies at the heart of finite play, and seriousness is not an emotional mood but a mindset. Serious players identify themselves with a role and forbid themselves the freedom to act beyond it (sec. 13). Serious players behave as if a part of a game - a role, an abstraction - is the whole game, as if there is a script to the game that must be obeyed, as if the rules come from outside own range of choice (sec. 14). Seriousness is to demand fixed consequences and predicable outcomes; it is to exclude possibility and surprise. It wants nothing more than play to end by winning (sec. 17). Seriousness cannot experience life itself as joy and laughter (secs. 23-24).

Connected to this portrayal of seriousness is Carse's concept of masking or veiling. To be 'serious' means to be unwilling to drop the veil/mask that goes with a role and acknowledge that one has freely put it on. Infinite players wear masks too, but they acknowledge to themselves and others that they are masked, that they are more than the mask, and that they could chose to put off that mask. Infinite payers regard "each participant in finite play as that person playing and not as a role played by someone" (p. 18). Hence, while finite play is 'theatrical', scripted, infinite play is 'dramatic', improvised, open, free.

This review is becoming too serious, so I'd better stop. I will come back to FIG again and again. I will take its ideas, barely scratched here, into my own game of life. I will have to chart its contents visually to earn a full grasp of them. I will encourage my friends to read it and I will mention it in any relevant talks and lectures I give. Therefore, for all these reasons, despite the real weaknesses listed, I chose to give it the full five points.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 9 May 2014 13:59:49 BDT
Thanks. This is the most thorough and thoughtful review I have ever seen. Best wishes, Nick

In reply to an earlier post on 9 May 2014 19:17:03 BDT
Allen Baird says:
Thanks Nicholas. Great site BTW, especially the 'For Consultants and Trainers' section.
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