Infinite Creative Games: Why simply playing is winning


What is an infinite game?

And why should you, as a creative professional, care?

Let’s begin with “finite games,” because that is what our commercial culture is all about.

There are a few exalted winners and vast hordes of losers/strivers. Here are just a few obvious examples of our national finite games:

The Super Bowl, World Series, the NBA playoffs, flipping condos, stock speculation, consumer marketing, the Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, Obies, Golden Globes, Nobel Prizes, Indie 500 and Nascar, Pulitzer Prizes, Wimbledon, MacArthur Genius Grants, Sundance Indie Film Awards and Hollywood deals, Olympic gold medalists, Project Runway, American Idol, Congressional filabusters, offshore drilling, and strip development…

Conversely Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine and digital guru, defines Infinite Games this way:

“The game is to keep changing the nature of change. And that infinite game is my view of holiness. You play the game not to win, but to continue to play to make room for all expressions of truth, good, and the beautiful. You are opening up the world to possibility.”

This was slammed home to me just a few weeks ago. My longtime music guru, Dan Kleiman, unexpectedly died of a massive stroke from out of the blue. He was just 55. Dan seemed in good health and in reasonably good spirits when I saw him last October in Philly.

He composed, performed, and handled the post-production of twelve of my award-winning experimental videos over a period of a dozen years:

One of the things we talked about (perhaps the one thing that we always talked about) was the apparent unfairness and arbitrary harshness of life in the creative economy. As middle-aged working creative professionals, we were both experiencing the frustration of always being on the edge of big things. As the saying goes, always a bridesmaid and never a bride. With the collapse of both the stock and housing markets, we saw a lot of our savings and net worth evaporate and the prospect of easy money disappear.

Dan was vexed by the possibility of many more years of creative struggle and the uncertainty of any financial reward. I was less worried about things and more sanguine about the future (at least at that moment) and tried to cheer him up with my usual philosophizing. In my circle of friends and colleagues, I am often the resident skeptical optimist. I adopted this cast of mind when dealing both with a serious chronic illness for nearly twenty years and a life-threatening colon lesion. For the most part, my health situation was not talked about, but was always the 800-pound gorilla in the studio. Consequently, I am genuinely grateful for the good days when there is energy and creative flow.

Recently, Dan and his longtime creative partner and singer, Phyllis Chapell, finished a magnificent CD titled “Vision of the Dry Bones.” It combined their virtuosity with Jewish, Latin, and world culture into a delicious and fully realized whole.

It had a genuine artistic integrity that can only be achieved by decades of practice, experimentation, and committed creative collaboration. Here is a link to some clips from the album:

One of the things that I mentioned to Dan last fall was that the web might provide artists (particularly musicians and performers) a modicum of immortality. One might yet be discovered posthumously on the Internet and find an enthusiastic audience that could span generations.

This did not give my gifted friend much succor or solace. He was still playing the finite games of the mercurial creative marketplace at our last meeting, trying to figure out how to get fame, fortune, security, and unconditional love through one’s art.

Now he is part of eternity…as we all shall be…sooner or later.

But let me leave you with images from a favorite infinite game—Nantucket Sailboats!

It was one of the very first videos that Dan and I worked on together.

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