February 21, 2024
what is a metagame
What is a metagame? What is meta? This article will answer these questions and also shed light on the origins and usage of the term!

It’s time to answer the question: What is a metagame? And as an extension, what does it mean when one says “meta” in gaming?

While it’s generally defined by the community as “an approach to playing a game”, “the best available strategies in game”, or “the best characters, weapons, and items available in a game”, the truth is that a metagame (or meta, for short) encompasses all of these and even beyond.

As a matter of fact, the prefix meta comes from ancient Greek. Its literal meaning is “among, with, after,” while the basic use of this prefix/word/term in modern usage refers to describing “a subject in a way that transcends its original limits, considering the subject itself as an object of reflection.” (Merriam-Webster, 2023). In case you also didn’t know, meta was added as a word to the English language in 2019.

Going on, Nigel Howard, who is a researcher, scholar, and author, proposed in his work “Paradoxes of Rationality: Theory of Metagames and Political Behavior” that people would try to achieve their objectives through the analysis of options available to them and choose the best option(s) accordingly, after considering all possible factors (Howard, 1971). He presented this theory in the context of military and political strategy.

Now, going by modern gaming usage, a game (specifically, a match, map, etc.) is not just a competition. It is an entity with an environment, a set of variables (characters, spells, skills, cooldowns, etc.), and external factors (people, training, recognition of patterns, recognition of optimal possibilities, adaptation, psychology, etc.)

Here is how a metagame (and meta) could be defined as follows:

A metagame refers to the utilization of in-game elements (characters, skills, spells, timings, lineups, moves, etc.), non-interactive in-game elements (terrain, obstacles, environment), and external elements (strategies and tactics devised by players – this is why some people, especially from military backgrounds, call meta as “Most Effective Tactic Available”, though this is not the definition and every gamer with literacy out there would scream that it’s wrong – as well as matchups, mismatches, efficiency rates, plays, sets, and anything found outside the game that could lead to an advantage for the player and/or team in question, decisive or otherwise) to build the best possible outcome.

This is achieved through having specific lineups (as in Dota 2 and League of Legends), weapon buffs (Counter-Strike comes to mind), item buffs (nearly everywhere, but I’ll throw games like MyHordes into the mix lol) and imbalances in matchups (Entropy 2099), among other things.

Due to the nature of games changing their respective balance patches overtime, a metagame also changes and thus stays dynamic and also makes the gameplay varied and interesting (especially for viewers).

However, it should be noted that the extent of the meaning of the word varies from one game to another, and that the community still has a role in playing on how to define it within the context of the said game (Newell, 2018).

Hoping that this short piece sheds light on what a metagame is.

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