Finite games have winners and losers. Think basketball, Words with Friends, elections. One participant wins, and in so doing, causes all other participants to lose.
Infinite games don’t have winners. Think playing catch, duck duck goose, choir festivals, Snapchat streaks. Having success in a round doesn’t compel another to lose, it either has no effect or simply advances the game to the next round.
The spirit of infinite games is generally more collaborative, positive, and open-ended; without an automatic “loser”, there are fewer chances for hurt feelings or bruised egos.
Of late, I have been trying to play some finite games in an infinite way. In particular, I play Words With Friends (almost exclusively with family) not to win (though I’m no slouch) but to continue playing. I’m in love with being loosely connected with my family on most days, even without a phone call or email. Like playing catch, it’s about seeing how long we can keep it going.
With an infinite mindset, the game gets so much bigger and more rewarding. And while there are obviously some exceptions (somebody is going to be elected president!), I truly believe there are many opportunities to treat more of our interactions as infinite games rather than finite.