Play the Infinite Game

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0784

A small book that has made a big impression on my gaming is Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse.

It’s a philosophy that analyses two types of games.

Finite games, like Monopoly and Risk, have a clear start and end.

Infinite games, like some campaign-style RPGs, do not have a definite ending.

The differences are profound.

The rules of finite games are specifically aimed at producing an end state. There’s inning counts, timers, or eliminations. You play always to end the game.

Infinite games must be approached with the idea of prolonging the game for at least another turn. The best infinite game players think long-term to help perpetuate gameplay and keep the campaign healthy.

In finite games, usually someone wins and everyone else loses. The Monopoly winner must bankrupt the other players. The winning team must have more points when the clock runs out.

Infinite games require everyone to keep winning so play continues. A total party kill, for example, ends the game early.

This dichotomy is relevant to our approach to RPGs.

You can quickly spot players with the finite game mentality. They seek victory over the others. They do not purposefully try to advance gameplay. They do not care about your needs and agenda as GM and facilitator. They pursue an end-state even though that’s not what an RPG is about.

I believe one key to making your RPG campaign an infinite type game is helping everyone have more fun at every game.

Use improv techniques to give the next player hooks for roleplay. Take advantage of teamwork. Don’t hog the spotlight. Be curious and interested in the players as people. Ensure all characters can shine.

These and other things help keep your campaigns fun so everyone wants to keep on playing. Next time you GM or play, aim to “win” the infinite game.