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There's nothing to see here except for shadows of the past - and these ones won't be returning.

I'd point you to my next project here - but I'm not that organised. My style is to act and then sort out the consequences, rather than the other way around. Oh, and lying. I do that a lot too. (i.e. if you look closely, you may have seen some links appearing roughly once a week) is registered to me for the forseeable future, so you might find something there.

Edited by Vitenka at 2003-04-09 08:22:54

Vitenka : Fri 9 11:50:34 2002  
Takes me long enough to get around to writing a sequel column, doesn't it? Metagaming redux.

Metagaming for humans

Ok - back in the ancient prehistory of catnews (some time last week) I wrote a column which went in to some detail as to the inevitability of metagaming. It was horribly biased to those who see broadband as being more important than breathing - and I promised to do a second explanation for those few 'sane' people out there.

Not sure that I see the point, since any sane people have long since stopped reading my drivel but still, a promise is a promise...

Simple Definitions

Involved in the playing of a game.
Hmmm. Let's look up what the dictionary has to say...

[Greek, from meta, beside, after. See me-2 in Indo-European Roots.] A river, about 1,102 km (685 mi) long, of northeast Colombia flowing partially along the border with Venezuela.

Well, that's not quite the computational meaning any more. I like 4a though: Beyond; transcending; more comprehensive.

An example might help. Because the words 'data' and 'information' (and a host of others) have been given specific meanings already, computer scientists use the term 'metadata' to represent the data about the data they were initially talking about. Metadata is just data - it can be manipulated in all the same ways, but it's not the data you were initially considering.

For example, a computer representation of a book would contain all of the words (in order, I hope) - and this would be the data. But the index - or the list of books, or the dewey decimal system would be metadata.

Similarly metagaming is a game. It's just not the one you thought that you were playing. It's another, larger one that surrounds and contains the game you were playing.

It's a game?

Again, an example might help. Let's consider, say, counterstrike. The game is running around the field, sniping at people, rescuing hostages, playing with knives - all that stuff. One metagame is the selection of weapons. It happens outside of the 'main' game (at the start of a round) and it greatly effects how the main game will play out. As a stupid example, if one team all decided to only use knives then the main game would almost certainly go against them.

But that weapon selection is a game in itself. You have to choose (from a limited selection, depending upon how well you are doing) which weapons to use. Some choices are obvious - you'll need a couple of the best sniper rifles you can get on your team. Others are more reactive - do you have LOTS of snipers, or a few rushers with shotguns. Do you want mid-range semi-autos, or shorter range but more damaging ones?

And it's a game because these choices are more effective if you can play against the choices the enemy makes. On the simplest of levels - if they choose rock, you want to have chosen paper... So you have to guess in advance by watching what choices they usually make...

That's a pretty sloppy example, but I hope it shows how the 'game outside the game' (as other people call it) can be considered a game in and of itself.

So, how does this affect me?

Ideally - this shouldn't affect you at all. You should be able to choose to play the main game and totally ignore the metagame if you like.

Sadly it usually impinges upon you in subtle, and not so subtle ways. The 'not so subtle' ways include people shouting at you to 'play the game properly'. That is bad. If you want to buy a shotgun and pepper the sides of trains with it, you should be allowed to. But your doing so isn't in the plans of the people trying to play the metagame. They expect the game to play out 'normally' - and to a large extent are only interested in seeing whether the gameplay shows their metagame tactics to be superior or not.

Let's have another example. In many wargames (and TF2 if it ever happens) commanders push units around and give them broad objectives. If they attack a weak enemy force with a strong one, they expect to win. From your point of view, you're just in a small scale battle - and you play it however the heck you want.

The more subtle way it affects you is the evolution of 'skills' 'tactics' 'map bugs' and so on.

Evolution of 'good play'

Ok, this is a quick rehash of the other column.

When a game first starts being played, one set of tactics is used. Very rapidly at first, then more slowly as time goes on, new tactics are invented which are better. They spread through the community. Eventually, the game is unrecognisable.

If you've ever played a game late on its evolution without playing it earlier you will have encountered this. Cries of "You're not allowed to do that because it's lame" are one symptom. Getting your ass handed to you by things you cannot understand is another. "How could he know I was there? How is he flying?" And suspecting that people are cheating is the worst. "He shot me from there? Whie I was moving? He is flying? He MUST have seen me through the wall!"

This spread of new tactics is also a metagame. (as you should have guessed, since it's the subject of this column)

Actually, the evolution of cheats and countercheats is another one. But i'll not go into that here since I despise cheats. (Why didn't I say 'curs' instead of 'scum'? It would have made the link on theme...)

Better Play

This is something of a problem for you. You're not interested in spending every waking hour keeping up to date with the latest ideas in how to play your game. You don't want to have to wade through the morass of threads about gibberrish on a forum in order to extract the one kernel of a new idea from a forum. Heck, you don't want to have to learn a new language just to be able to understand what these people are saying. (w00t, I bh,sj,bh,conced! Rah!)

And the reason that it is a problem is that you will not be able to have a fun game against these people. You won't know what they are doing, or why - and they will probably insult you a lot. (stfu n00b!) Which, of course, leads you to throw away that game and retire to life in a convent.

And that's what metagaming is for you. A problem that you cannot really see, do not understand and cannot fight.

Round Two: Fight!

Well, perhaps you can find ways to fight. How shall I compare thee to a hardcore gamer? Let me count the ways...

  1. Persistance. As an insane scot said 'try try try again' - leading to eight tries and hence the spider reference ties in to binary computing. Where was I? Oh yes.

    If you just keep on playing the damn game and ignoring the insults, while taking notice of those who bother to explain themselves a bit - you can drag yourself up to the 'expected' level of play reasonably quickly. After a while you will doubtless know that bh means jumping up and down to increase your running speed - and that some people love it and others regard it as cheating. You'll recognise that yes, some people cheat to see through walls - but others just guess that you will be there because duh, it's the obvious place to hide. It takes time to learn all this - and you will probably never realise when you have stopped learning stuff that 'everybody knows' and started inventing wholly new stuff that only a few people know. Probably the first indication that you will have is when someone says 'thank you' for teaching them something that they didn't know.

    This is, obviously, a long hard road - but it does lead you there in the end. Of course, you have to be sure that there is somewhere you want to go...

  2. Get in on the ground floor. As lots of people have said, there's always room at the top.

    Find a totally new game - preferably a totally new genre. No one has more experience than you, since no one has ANY experience. So as long as you can put in the hours, you can STAY at the top. Again, lots of work - but you can enjoy being near the top for a while without putting in the time. You just have to find a new game every now and then.

  3. Play something everybody understands - preferably something that nobody understands.

    Play a game that has been around for ages. A game with such a long learning curve that very few people are at the top - but the journey to the top is an accepted way to play. Chess, poker, go, combat-tetris... You can easily find people who will teach you the basics, because there are lots of them. And you can spend your whole life happily getting 'a bit better' without having to worry about the game that the grandmasters play; studying each others styles and finding ways to undermine them.

    And some games are just completely unsuited to 'powergamers' in any form. You won't find many people being l33t in 'the sims-online' for example - the challenges there are just too different for them.

  4. Play the game. (This headline has not been sponsored by a corporation. Damn them.)

    You don't have to be a 'leet dood' - you just have to be able to understand it when they speak. And most of the people at the very top of games are intelligent enough to speak coherently. You get a few idiot savants, but not many. Anyway - if you pick and choose what to read and what to learn, while playing the game a lot, you can bring yourself into the metagame. Doubtless you will (at first) cover things that other people have covered before - but the joy of a discovery is hardly muted by not being the first to get there. You did it your way!

  5. Live and let die. All dogs go to heaven. Fievel goes west... where the fields are green. Where it is halloween. Where the title stops making any sense at all! Read the damn paragraph.

    And you can just ignore it completely. There will always be other people who don't play metagames and just play the main game. And you can ignore everyone else. There's no reason to force your playstyle to be something else just because someone wants it - although I do urge you not to do things solely because it annoys other people. That's called being a jerk. (Or greifer, or llama or any number of other terms. Oddly, newbie is one of them now)


As I explained in the big long pro-gamer version of this column - the evolution of games into other games is inevitable. If my style of playing consistently beats yours then I'm going to keep using it - and if you refuse to invent a better one then you're going to get beaten over and over...

However, no - I'm not apologetic. The psychological metagame is a far superior game to any computer game yet invented. And even when it annoys me (by endorsing tactics that I dislike such as bunnyhopping) or speaks out against tactics which I like (forward defence) it is exhilarating to play.

Which is, of course, why I am writing this column. I enjoy it.

The metagame can actually be a good thing for you in some ways. First of all it means that you can improve your playing skills to a huge level by trying to beat a tactic through raw reaction times. Second, it means that you can beat people with their brains wired directly to the net and the reaction time of a chiauahah on lsd by using different tactics. It opens the game up.

I do, however, apologise for the hatred most online gaming communites show to new players. It's simple tribalism - they are covering for the fact that they used to be outsiders once, and so to persuade themselves that they really are a part of the tribe now, they cast scorn on those that aren't. It's largely a seperate issue - and one that needs stomping on. Just ignore the jerks as best you can.


I hope that this column helps un-confuse you. I hope that you can use it to understand a bit about what makes certain games hard to play. I have given a few ideas for how you can try to have a better gaming experience. Sadly they won't help if you are dead set on playing a certain game without putting in the hours to learn it. All I can offer you there is that the hype about certain games is usually better than the games themselves. Forget it, and move on.

In closing I have three remarks, in increasing order of comedy and pointlessness.

  1. Everyone is new to every game once. If you keep trying, eventually someone will explain where to find help.
  2. When the idiots taunt you with something like "omg! Only [insulting name - often 'newbies' or 'fags'] do [whatever you just did]. You [insulting name]" the absolute best response is: "Ha ha, [insulters name] got beaten by [whatever you just did] by a [insulting name that they used]" - for example, against: "omg! Llama! Only n00bz m5-snipe!" you would reply: "Ha ha, you got m5-sniped by a n00b!" They really hate it, and it generally gives everyone else on the server a grin.
  3. Beaten you shp - skipping to the conclusion gives you no information about the rest of the column this time!

Edited by Vitenka at 2002-08-09 12:03:02

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