How to Play the Infinite Game
“After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box.” ~Italian Proverb
In the infinite game of life there are a finite number of games playing themselves out. All of which are trivial, arbitrary, and finite. These finite games range from board games such as chess, Risk, and poker; to broader games such as marriage, paying taxes, and having a career.
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, even at the expense of play itself. An infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing play, for the sake of play itself. While there are endless finite games (football, war, politics, religion) there is only one infinite game: the game of life. Your life. My life. All of life.
The Infinite Game is played by adapting to, and then overcoming, the absurdity of change. All the finite games in between are mere playthings, psychosocial inanities, cultural conditionings, symbolic pieces moved about the board of life. Those who merely play these finite games without awareness of the overall Infinite Game, tend to get caught up in the self-seriousness of it all and thus fall victim to nihilism.
Reality is a juggernaut of death. All games must end. On a long enough timeline, there are no timelines. Entropy eventually eats everything. A common response to this is nihilism.
Nihilism is a state of utter meaninglessness. It’s the red mark left behind by the bitch slap of an absurd universe. It’s a crushing sense of hopelessness. It’s the bottom of the abyss, where we are outflanked by infinite nothingness. It’s so devastating that there is a tendency to give up, to fall into depression, anxiety, or despair.
We are thus faced with an existential dilemma. Do we wallow in our ennui, dissatisfied and aimless? Do we lean on the crutch of outdated religions, mollycoddled, meek, fearful, and placated? Or do we courageously rise up, seize our own life, and create our own meaning despite absurdity and nihilism?
Seizing our life is playing the Infinite Game. It’s un-hoodwinking the hoodwink. It’s bulldozing through the bamboozle. It’s being cunning despite being conned. It’s the only game that matters next to death. The Infinite Game honors the absurdity of change as the only absolute.
In the face of absurdity, an infinite player has three options: refuse to play, shift responsibility for play, or rebelliously play. Let’s break it down…
Option 1: Refuse to play the game (suicide):
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” ~Marcus Aurelius
Death is coming for us all. It looms behind clocks, around corners, and inside the noose of impermanence. It whispers into our ear, “Live!” it says, “I am coming.” To which, we have a crucial decision to make: live or die? Keep going or give up? Survive or commit suicide?
As Albert Camus famously stated, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.”
This is the core of our human experience regarding the absurd. We will die. All of us. No exceptions. You included. Despite all you have or have not accomplished in your life. Despite all your trials and tribulations, all your tragedies overcome and triumphs celebrated, all your petty religions and politics and cultural conditionings acted out, all your finite games played ad absurdum, it will all one day come to an abrupt end.
Nothingness will be your only God.
The decision is yours: get busy living or get busy dying. Copout to the absurd by committing suicide or get out ahead of the absurd by integrating it. Repress death anxiety and lose courage or embrace the despair of mortality and gain courage.
As Aristotle said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Infinite hope is the vital energy that fuels the Infinite Game. You’re either fueled by this energy and playing the Infinite Game with heart and vigor or you’re being syphoned of it by your all-too-many finite games. Religion is a syphon, politics is a syphon, war is a syphon.
To really play the Infinite Game well, we need fuel. We need something that keeps us going despite winning or losing. We need something that compels us to adapt and overcome regardless of how our finite games are going. Infinite hope is fuel. Spirituality is fuel. Nonattachment is fuel. Love is fuel.
Suicide is a copout. It’s the absurd reaction to an abstraction of an abstraction. It solves neither the problem of nihilism nor the problem of absurdism. It gives into them both. It’s falling victim to your unreasonable expectations rather than resolving them heroically.
Option 2: Shift responsibility for playing the game to an outside authority (conformity):
“It’s easy to be a naive idealist. It’s easy to be a cynical realist. It’s quite another thing to have no illusions and still hold the inner flame.” ~Marie-Louise von Franz
Traditional religions once provided meaning, purpose, and guidance. With their fall, it is your individual responsibility to discover your own meaning, purpose, and guidance.
Most people make the mistake of shifting responsibility for the absurdity of existence onto an outside authority. First there was religions and the Gods they bore. Then there was science and the lack of gods. Then there was the nation-state and the erecting of new gods. But in the end, there will always be the absurd.
No matter what religion, God, or state you decide to bow down to, there will always be an underlying sense of absurdity to it all. There will always be unreasonable expectations derived from your untenable abstractions. And that is precisely what you must take responsibility for lest you continue to live a life of delusion.
As the Bhagavad Gita states, “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
Shifting responsibility to an outside authority (religion, family, God, or the State) is a copout. Worse, it’s an imitation and an act of spiritual suicide (conformity). It’s giving up on your own destiny (self-empowerment, self-improvement, and self-overcoming). It’s a coward’s way of playing the Infinite Game. True courage is taking responsibility for your own sense of the absurd.
You either integrate absurdity or absurdity disintegrates you.
Integration requires courage. It requires heroism over playing the victim. An infinite player plays the Infinite Game the way a Hero faces the Hero’s Journey. The absurdity of the path is the path. The fact that the journey will come to an end is the journey. Because for the hero the journey itself (trials and tribulations, tragedies and triumphs, love and loss) is always the thing, never the destination (Heaven, perfection, enlightenment).
So, buttress yourself against the dangers that arise when traditional values dissolve. Annihilate the nihilism disguised as spiritual salve (religion, God, the State). Overcome the status quo. Overcome yourself. Hold onto your uniqueness despite a society that wants you to conform. Create your own values through your own philosophy. Reject both the bad faith of suicide and the bad faith of conformity. Embrace absurdism, then rebel against it.
As Ram Dass said, “Faith is not a belief. Faith is what is left when your beliefs have all been blown to hell.”
Option 3: Play the game by your own rules (rebellion):
“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” ~Camus
Creating your own values through your own philosophy will not be an easy task. It will require rebellion, verging on existential revolt. You must be able to look Absurdity itself in the eye and laugh with a humor of the most high. You must be capable of trumping your own will to power with an even more powerful will to humor.
You must become paradoxical. You must be able to both play in and transcend all your tiny finite games; knowing that the play, the trial and error, the blood, sweat, and tears, that the journey is the thing that will sharpen and hone you. But also knowing that it is all a song and dance shitshow played to the tune of Absurdity. You must become a torn thing–torn between discipline and humor, courage and humility, passion and indifference.
The tearing is the thing. It is in the tearing where you are the most human. Torn between flesh and spirit. Torn between living life to fullest despite knowing you’re going to die. Torn between standing on earth and longing for the stars.
The tearing is your sacred space. It’s the place where you craft your philosophy. Where you hone your soul, sharpen your character, and perfect your rebellion against absurdity. It’s where you develop a master strategy for playing the Infinite Game.
The master strategy will be as unique as your own fingerprint. It’s all up to you. It’s all on your shoulders. Nobody else is responsible for your life. Nobody else can teach you how to rebel against the absurdity of your own existence. Only you can do that. And it’s forged in the crucible of “the tearing.”
But the basic strategy is simple, albeit deceivingly simple. As we have covered, you must first reject the bad faith of suicide as a response to the absurdity of existence. Then you must reject the bad faith of conformity (putting the responsibility for dealing with absurdity onto an outside authority) as a response to the absurdity of existence. And finally, you must embrace the absurdity of existence but then flip the script by rebelling against it with your own unique philosophy of life.
Embracing absurdism is a cure for nihilism, but only if you can replace it with your own unique flavor of philosophical rebellion. That’s how you play the Infinite Game.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (How to Play the Infinite Game) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.