Infinite games in childhood

A thought struck me this morning on my BART ride into work, in response to Carse’s talk. He describes infinite games as where the point of playing is to continue to play. Doesn’t this describe childhood? Over Christmas break, I was visiting some friends with kids, and I was playing Uno with their four year old. And he was just so happy to be playing that he didn’t care who won or lost, or how he was doing; he was just excited about playing. Us adults get so worked up about winning and losing that we define ourselves by our results, but a bunch of kids playing baseball will often play for hours without keeping score because the point of the game is the game itself, not the result.

In fact, it’s the adults that ruin kids by injecting finite games into their play. We all knew a Little League dad who was just miserable to be around because he’d be screaming at everybody because he wanted his kid’s team to win. But, as Carse put it, “Evil is where an infinite game is absorbed completely into a finite game.” To destroy that sense of play, that sense of joy, for the sake of something as prosaic as winning and losing is wrong.

It’s interesting to think what a society based on a childlike state of mind would be like. I think I’d quite like it. Then again, it would essentially be the state of anarchy, which is a concept that appeals to me in theory. But in the “real” (aka adult) world, rules are necessary. People won’t play nice with each other, alas.

It also makes me wonder when we lose that sense of childlike joy. Not everybody does, obviously, and the ones that don’t are often among our most innovative thinkers (e.g. Feynman and Einstein). But most of us do. I certainly have. I never get that zap of “Wow, this is really cool!” any more, where I’m doing something for the sheer pleasure of doing it. I need to learn to be more immature again 🙂

Anyway, I thought that the observation that only adults play finite games was interesting. Thought I’d share.

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