Melissa
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Some of you will know that I have gone back to uni part-time to do a postgrad degree in Internet Studies. This semester, I am doing a unit on social networks and internet communities. The main activity for the unit is a three-week online conference at which each student "presents" a paper (posts the text on the conference site). Various academics are formally invited by the course co-ordinator, and students invite everyone they know other interested people.

One of the conference streams is on online gaming. I've written a paper on BrettspielWelt, looking at whether the Meta-Game is actually a game at all. Spoiler for my theory:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
uh no, it isn't

Others have written about World of Warcraft, about Starcraft vidding communities, about representations of women in videogames, ...

I haven't read any of the other papers yet, but I thought that this might be interesting to some people here. The site opens on Monday April 29th for 3 weeks. I think anyone can read the papers but if you want to comment then you need to register. It's a university-operated site so they are quite respectful of collected email addresses.

Link to conference: http://networkconference.netstudies.org/2013/
Link to gaming stream: http://networkconference.netstudies.org/2013/category/games/
(Late edit) Link to my paper: http://networkconference.netstudies.org/2013/gaming-squared-...
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I want to clarify something - are you saying that the metagame on BSW isn't a real game, or are you extending that to conclude that all metagames are not games?

I ask because, I am not really familiar with BSW, but I am familiar with other online gaming communities such as League of Legends where knowing and being able to manipulate the metagame are essential elements to achieving victory within the game (and this would seem to contradict the conclusion that all metagames are not games in an of themselves.) A more widely known and recent example would be the Android: Netrunner metagame on OCTGN, where, again, players attempt to read and manipulate the metagame (what kinds of decks are played, how they are built, how they are played) in order to be successful in individual match ups of the game itself...
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Melissa
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I'm saying that "the Meta-Game" on BSW is not itself a game. And, by extension, that gamification doesn't make something a game.

(imagine a picture of a big and partially open can here, filled with worms)

Having said that, I'm dubious whether any metagame is actually a game, although it may be a component of a game. I'm not familiar with League of Legends, though, so I am hesitant to make enormously broad and sweeping claims. Is the metagame really something that you play or is it something that you manage in order to improve the outcomes of your play?

We should have this conversation on the conference site on Monday where I get marked for it!
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melissa wrote:
I'm saying that "the Meta-Game" on BSW is not itself a game. And, by extension, that gamification doesn't make something a game.

(imagine a picture of a big and partially open can here, filled with worms)

Having said that, I'm dubious whether any metagame is actually a game, although it may be a component of a game. I'm not familiar with League of Legends, though, so I am hesitant to make enormously broad and sweeping claims. Is the metagame really something that you play or is it something that you manage in order to improve the outcomes of your play?

We should have this conversation on the conference site on Monday where I get marked for it!


A can of worms definitely.

My, brief answer is: I see the metagame in a particular environment as metaphorically similar to the game play of many euro games - I am managing it, to use your term, in the way I manage a game economy, and make decisions about how to do that managing based on what I know about the actions and choices, past, present and predicted future, of my opopnents. Like a euro game, there is generally no direct conflict within this environment (though League of Legends is a pretty hostile community and the trash-talking and abusive criticism that is a part of its metagame may indeed be considered direct conflict), but there is definitely competition, and the rewards for victory in the metagame are directly linked to an increased possibility for success in the game. The metagame for many online games is: resource management driven, indirect competition, and a clear winner as determined often by the player who is the wealthiest or most successful in-game.

One non-electronic example of this would be the Magic: The Gathering tournament scene in one's local community. Magic is still fairly driven by how many power-rares a player is able to field in his or her deck, and the access to those rares is limited. Therefore, there is a competition to obtain them and to build the best decks around them. The winner of that metagame then has an increased chance of success at the next session of Friday Night Magic or whatever tournament is being hosted this week.

An electronic example would be the auction house economies in MMORPGS like World of Warcraft. In that game there is a definite metagame of gathering resources and/or items, and then selling them off in the auction house - indeed at one point in WoW, it was possible to play the auction house the way one plays the stock market - buying underpriced items in bulk and then reselling them at an increased price. The winner of this metagame then has more resources to spend in the regular game, and so it generally better outfitted than other players, and by being better outfitted, is more successful at facing some of the game challenges such as dungeons or pvp combat.
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Melissa
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I'm stuck on the sense of a Meta-Game as a game in itself.

Clearly I don't know enough about the League of Legends to assess it (and won't, while I am frantically editing this paper to get it down to the allowable length - still around 40 words over).

The Magic example, I agree, definitely involves some kind of metagame but is there a game just in accumulating and building the right deck or is metagaming (getting good cards for your deck) an activity that you do to increase your chances of being a winner when you do play the game? I think it's the latter. And I think the WoW example is similar - there are metagame activities that will make you a better player (note that this is NOT the case on BSW, where the metagame is very clearly separate from the act of playing a game - being in a big city won't, sadly, make me more likely to win at Princes of Florence) but they are a part of the game experience and don't constitute a game themselves. (Note that I have not played WoW either, but at least I have read a bit about it).

I've ended up at the concept of a fourth wall, borrowed from theatre, and only really developed as far as the paper I'm working on needed it to be taken. When actors speak directly to their audience, this is considered "breaking the fourth wall". And I think when the response to a game action or event is "because the rules won't let you" that is the equivalent - you're breaking the fourth wall of the game. For me, as a bit of a game purist, a game should be able to be explained within the concepts and language of the game - there shouldn't be arbitrary rules that don't fit the narrative. And to me, all the resource gathering and trading and equipping that goes on in an MMORPG is an in-game or in-story conceptualisation of administrative activity that is required - but there's no "winner" of Best Armour or Best Story About How They Got Their Deck, because they're tasks not games.

Also, possibly relevantly: if you wanted, you could break that fourth wall and buy the equipment (or Magic cards), because it's a task not play.
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When I think of meta-gaming, I think of non-game interactions between players that have an effect on the game (intentional or not). For example, Sally is really nice to me, gets me a beverage and keeps my snack bowl filled. Then during a multi-player game, when I have the opportunity to attack an opponent, I'm more likely to attack other players first rather than attack Sally, because subconsciously I want to be nice to Sally. That could be overt manipulation on Sally's part, and if it's too obvious I'll ignore it in-game. But it could have a subtle effect.

Another example: I know that player A reacts very badly (throws a fit) when attacked early, even if it is a totally fair move. Player B, on the other hand, always takes game events in stride and remains a fun gaming opponent. Whom will I attack first? Maybe I'm fed up with player A's tantrums, and decide to pick on him just to make a point. Or maybe I don't feel up for a confrontation so I attack player B, who I know will be a good sport about it. In either case, my feelings about the players as persons (outside the game experience) may affect game decisions. (For better or worse.)

Ideally I try not to let those feelings affect my actions at the game table. But realistically it is hard to prevent those meta-game instincts from kicking in.
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DrumPhil wrote:
When I think of meta-gaming, I think of non-game interactions between players that have an effect on the game (intentional or not). For example, Sally is really nice to me, gets me a beverage and keeps my snack bowl filled. Then during a multi-player game, when I have the opportunity to attack an opponent, I'm more likely to attack other players first rather than attack Sally, because subconsciously I want to be nice to Sally. That could be overt manipulation on Sally's part, and if it's too obvious I'll ignore it in-game. But it could have a subtle effect.

Another example: I know that player A reacts very badly (throws a fit) when attacked early, even if it is a totally fair move. Player B, on the other hand, always takes game events in stride and remains a fun gaming opponent. Whom will I attack first? Maybe I'm fed up with player A's tantrums, and decide to pick on him just to make a point. Or maybe I don't feel up for a confrontation so I attack player B, who I know will be a good sport about it. In either case, my feelings about the players as persons (outside the game experience) may affect game decisions. (For better or worse.)

Ideally I try not to let those feelings affect my actions at the game table. But realistically it is hard to prevent those meta-game instincts from kicking in.


All the examples you cite are parts of a metagame, but are not the metagame in its entirety.

This is a bit tough to talk about since metagames are organic and defined in the course of play (and metaplay), especially since they can include all sorts of sub- or super- actions (actions within the game and outside of it) that affect the play.

The way I prefer to think about it is that metagames are the games we play with games, or the games that we play INSIDE of game, which may explain why I disagree with Melissa's central claim.

Looking at your highly rated games, Melissa, I am not at all surprised that you are a "purist" as you call it - I am the polar opposite, and eschew "pure" game experiences for the "messy" ones like Diplomacy that are almost entirely metagame. My argument is that there are no "pure" games - games free from metagames. Even classic abstracts like Go and Chess are filled with stories in which opponents use mind-games or trickery or absurd and unexpected tactics to metagame their opponents into making mistakes, and furthermore, the desire to play a game free from all metagame influences is itself a metagame move, in that it is an attempt to influence the metagame.

Likewise, since you mentioned the theater example, my FAVORITE moments in theater are those in which the fourth wall is broken. Shakespeare, widely considered the greatest of playwrights does this in nearly every single one of his plays. Heck, shortly after the murder of Caesar, Cassius declares: "How many ages hence. Shall this our lofty scene be acted over, In states unborn and accents yet unknown?" surprise

I think we agree that the game and the metagame are entangled - you can't have a metagame by itself without a game. However, it almost sounds like you are saying, because of this entanglement, the metagame is not a real game, since it cannot exist on its own outside of the game it is related to. I think I have a different definition of game here, since, a game, in my book, is any intentionally structured system that allows players to participate in a competition such that one of them will be recognized as victor at the end of play. Note that the definition from wikipedia is even more loose and flexible than mine:

Quote:
A game is structured playing, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool. Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more often an expression of aesthetic or ideological elements. However, the distinction is not clear-cut, and many games are also considered to be work (such as professional players of spectator sports/games) or art (such as jigsaw puzzles or games involving an artistic layout such as Mahjong, solitaire, or some video games).

Key components of games are goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. Games generally involve mental or physical stimulation, and often both. Many games help develop practical skills, serve as a form of exercise, or otherwise perform an educational, simulational, or psychological role.


Using either definition, most metagames ARE games, regardless of whether or not they can exist independently from the games they are entangled with.

Which brings me to your final point:

Quote:
but there's no "winner" of Best Armour or Best Story About How They Got Their Deck, because they're tasks not games.


First, I would argue that there is a winner. Any time a player is recognized by others for his superior success in a competition he is declared winner. In a board game, this is made very explicit, but it need not necessarily be explicit in order to still be the case--the ONLY criteria that needs to be met in order for a victor to be declared is the agreement of the other players--no other criteria matters. This holds true in the opposite direction, by the way - if the other players REFUSE to acknowledge a victor, even if a player has attempted to claim victory, than technically there hasn't been a winner. You can see this in the U.S. in parts of the South as the result of the Civil War--a refusal to acknowledge that the North won that conflict and a refusal, whenever possible to abide by the policies of or adopt the ideologies of the North.

Another example, in the metagame of Magic: The Gathering deck building, an eventual winner is declared when a player is recognized as having the superior deck with the superior rares. This may happen as part of his victory within the game, but the time and place of the recognition does not matter what matters is the recognition itself. So when I a player wins that game, he may also win that metagame. However, metagames are slippery. I have played games of Magic against players who stuffed their decks with uber-rares and gotten pounded by them, only to decide it wasn't worth my time to play any future game of Magic with them. In this context, that opponent tried playing the Magic deckbuilding metagame so he could win the Magic game. He won the magic game, but LOST the metagame by being TOO successful at it such that some opponents might refuse to play future games with him.

SO if I recognize a player for having better armor than me or a better deck than me (but not in an an unfair way) than they have won a game with me as an opponent.

Anyhow thanks for arguing this. It's so great to hear a different perspective!
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Melissa
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My paper is up, although I don't think comments open until Monday: http://networkconference.netstudies.org/2013/gaming-squared-...
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melissa wrote:
My paper is up, although I don't think comments open until Monday: http://networkconference.netstudies.org/2013/gaming-squared-...


A great read! Very thorough and well supported, and absolutely fascinating (honestly, it makes me want to try BSW out!)
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We used to run Newbie Nights in Lupus Landing, to help people get used to using BSW (it can be a bit fiddly). Keep an eye out for announcements
 
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