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August 31st, 2019
An infinite game is an activity or competition that expands in time and in terms of resources required or generated the more that it is played. These infinite games can be both good and bad.
Addiction is perhaps the most visceral example of a bad infinite game. This is particularly poignant in the parlance surrounding heroin. A user is continually seeking the intensity of experience that was experienced the first time, and this is why the dosage steadily goes up and up.
Competing with the Jones’, as Episode 502 examined, is also a bad infinite game because it’s play constantly results in feelings of dissatisfaction. And this is why the game is played: to displace or temporarily quell feelings of dissatisfaction.
Writing, on the other hand, or any form of creation for that matter, is a positive infinite game because the imagination can always be further mined. It can always yield more, and the consistent result can be one of satisfaction and fulfillment.
In this case, the reason for continued play is the inverse of the heroin addict. The creator is always trying to create something better than before, to refine the message, the technique and the effect.
Note also how creators who are popularly recognized for an early work can end up somewhat haunted by this success and can often collapse into inactivity, convinced that they will never be able to top the effect of that first success. This is somewhat like the heroin user who is chasing that first high.
But the creator who sees their work as a process that is continually growing is immune to this kind of stagnation.
Both good and bad infinite games are self-reinforcing feedback loops. Their effect magnifies and compounds as time passes and the game is played.
On a more individual level, habits are feedback loops and can be the basis for an infinite game that we play. The question is, do these habits and games generate a fulfilling life, or does each iteration, and each move drill our existence farther down into a pit of misery and despair?
An easy litmus test to figure out if an infinite game is positive or negative is to ask: does this activity consume or contribute?
What infinite games are you playing?