Keeping things interesting–metagame

As others have already mentioned, one of the central ideas in this reading, beyond simply introducing the relevant questions of the book, is that a game stops being fun when the brain gets a full grasp of the patterns that are relevant to it. To someone interested in game design, this clearly raises the question, “how do we keep the brain from getting that full grasp of the game?”

While this is a huge question with a lot of possible answers, one that I’ve experienced is “metagame.” A lot goes into metagame, but in simple terms and typical situations metagame is a progression of the game itself and how it is played, based on information that came from outside the game as it is being played right now.

In Starcraft for example, as people’s strategies have evolved in the 12 years since its release, ideas have had entire life cycles. Ideas go from new, confusing ideas to fairly understood ideas to mainstream ideas and finally to failed ideas, without the game itself changing at all, with people following them the whole time. There was probably a time when no one would imagine “fast expanding” (building your economy early at the cost of everything else, especially defense) but once people figured out how to micromanage very weak forces to great effect, that became a common tactic. It can be countered, but the counters can be countered, and the end result is that people don’t bother to counter most of the time. This sort of change keeps the game feeling fresh without the developers actually having to change anything, because it makes it so that the players themselves affect the gameplay. And the players themselves definitely vary and change.

One thought on “Keeping things interesting–metagame

  1. Professor Sample

    Your example of meta-gaming is very intriguing. We’ll be talking about meta-games later this semester, using a slightly different meaning (meta-games as games about games, or games that are self-conscious of their gameness).

    What you describe in Starcraft is what many game designers call “emergent play” — when the players themselves play and shape the game in ways the designers never imagined or accounted for.

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