What Game Are You Playing?

I recently used the phrase “the game of life” in a conversation with my 14-year old son. “How do you win?” What a question! I was certainly not ready for that.

It did get me thinking. Is life really a game? And if so, how do you win this game? Importantly, how do you know if you win?

“He who dies with the most toys wins.”

Attributed to Malcolm Forbes

Perhaps for some, but surely not for most of us (at least I hope so).

Is life really a game? And if so, what kind of game is it? James P. Carse in his book Finite and Infinite Games describes there are at least two types of games:

  • A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, and
  • An infinite game has the purpose of continuing the play

Our lives are generally characterised by finite games – a winner and the rest. We have rules, a beginning and the end. Work, sport, school, activities, investments, social media, just about anything you can think of is characterised as a finite game.

In contrast, infinite games have a different feel altogether – there is no beginning and the objective of the game is to prevent the game from coming to an end, to keep everyone playing. By definition, the rules must change to preserve this objective.

What if we thought about our lives as an infinite game? How different would we live? Remember, the game must go on and everyone has to keep on playing. All of a sudden, connecting, noticing, learning, doing and giving would be the stance we would cherish.

As we do this,

…our lives are forever changed, we will never be the same.

The Smashing Pumpkins

And that is a big, royal “we”. We all change.

But what for? Why does this matter?

When we view our lives as an infinite game and we connect, notice, learn, do and give, we keep the game in play. And when the game is in play, we all grow and benefit. It is not easy but it matters.

“It’s what we wrestle with every single day. The intersection of comfort, danger, and safety. The balancing act between vulnerability and shame. The opportunity (or the risk) to do art. The willingness to take responsibility for caring enough to make a difference and to have a point of view.” 

Seth Godin

Life is a game. An infinite game. Play it well.

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