In game theory and economic theory, zero-sum describes a situation in which a participant's gain or loss is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the other participant(s). It is so named because when the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. The strategy game Go is an example of a zero-sum game.
As a reference to the end of the world, the title could also be alluding to the phrase "ashes to ashes, dust to dust". The phrase comes from the Bible passages "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return" (Genesis 3:19) and "I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee" (Ezekiel 28:18), the relation to the song being that humanity was born from nothing and to nothing it will return, a total gain of nothing or "zero-sum".
This is the original album version. It consists of Trent Reznor's signature piano playing on a grand piano, glitch-like programmed beats, and vocals pushed to the back of the mix. The vocals alternate between Reznor delivering vocals reminiscent of dialog samples and distant, harmonized singing.
This unmastered vocal-less mix was released by Reznor through his remix.nin.com account.
Zero-Sum: Stephen Morris & Gillian Gilbert
This remix appears on Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D. It begins with a basic melody and beat before the vocals come in. A synth comes in over the vocals, riding over them like a wave. The melody changes as the verse transitions over to the first chorus. After the chorus, many elements drop out as it builds to the second verse. Many sound elements from the first verse returned but are now joined by a hi-hat and drum beat. After the second chorus repeats, the melody heard at the very beginning returns accompanied by the hi-hat and drum percussion. These sounds drop out at the end save for a synth beat that simply fades quickly.
A new version of the song created for a promo to the television series Fringe, it contains dialogue from the show read by Reznor in place of the original verses. When the promo's audio is viewed through a spectrograph, it is shown to contain a glyph from the television series.
And I've seen history repeat itself enough times to know A war is coming You don't have to trust me, or even like me But you can't deny I hold a unique perspective shaped by having lived in two worlds I've seen first hand the difference a wrong choice can make The truth will come out It always does Shame on us, For all we have done And all we ever were Just zeroes and ones
These lyrics may be incomplete, as the full edit of this version is not currently available
"Zero-Sum" was played in part during the Lights In The Sky Tour in 2008. During the extended ending of "In This Twilight," Reznor performs the chorus melody and accompaniment of "Zero-Sum" on piano as the band members exit one by one. This song was never played in its entirety.
They're starting to open up the sky They're starting to reach down through And it feels like we're living in that split-second Of a car crash And time is slowing down And if we only had a little more time And this time Is all there is Do you remember the time we And all the times we And should have And were going to I know And I know you remember How we could justify it all And we knew better In our hearts we knew better And we told ourselves it didn't matter And we chose to continue And none of that matters anymore In the hour of our twilight And soon it will be all said and done And we will all be back together as one If we will continue at all Shame on us Doomed from the start May God have mercy On our dirty little hearts Shame on us For all we've done And all we ever were Just zeros and ones And you never get away And you never get to take the easy way And all of this is a consequence Brought on by our own hand If you believe in that sort of thing And did you ever really find When you closed your eyes Any place that was still And at peace And I guess I just wanted to tell you As the light starts to fade That you are the reason That I am not afraid And I guess I just wanted to mention As the heavens will fall We will be together soon if we Will be anything at all Shame on us Doomed from the start May God have mercy On our dirty little hearts Shame on us For all we've done And all we ever were Just zeros and ones
The sixth line of each chorus is sung as follows:
For all we have done