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A metagame is a game about a game, or an approach to playing a game. A metagame can serve a broad range of purposes, tied to the way a game relates to various aspects of life.[1]: 2,14 [2]

In competitive games, the metagame can refer to the most popular strategy, often called a game's meta, or preparation for a match in general.[3]

In tabletop role-playing game, metagaming has been used to describe players discussing the game, sometimes simply rules discussions and other times causing the characters they control to act in ways they normally would not within the story.[4]


The word metagame is composed of the Greek-derived prefix meta– (from μετά, meta, meaning "beyond") and the noun game.[3] The shorthand meta has been backronymed as "Most Effective Tactics Available" to tersely explain the concept. Metagame was used in the context of playing zero-sum games in a publication by the Mental Health Research Institute in 1956.[5] It is alternately claimed that the first known use of the term was in Nigel Howard's book Paradoxes of Rationality: Theory of Metagames and Political Behavior published in 1971, where Howard used the term in his analysis of the Cold War political landscape using a variation of the Prisoner's Dilemma.,[1]: 10  however Howard used the term in Metagame Analysis in Political Problems published in 1966.[6] In 1967, the word appeared in a study by Russell Lincoln Ackoff[7] and in the Bulletin of the Operations Research Society of America.[8]

Casual gaming[edit]

In casual gaming, the metagame generally refers to any meaningful interaction between players and elements not directly part of the game.[1][3] The concept gained traction in game design in a column written in 1995 by Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, for The Duelist. In a 2000 talk at the Game Developers Conference, Garfield expanded on this, defining metagame as "how a game interfaces beyond itself", and asserted that this can include "what you bring to a game, what you take away from a game, what happens between games, [and] what happens during a game".[1]: 14 [2] Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux extend and refine Garfield's term to apply to potentially all forms of play and gaming, arguing that metagames are often more important than video games themselves.[1]: 8  They go on to describe that metagaming "results from the entanglement of philosophical concepts, the craft of game design, and the cultures of play that surrounds videogames."[1]: 21 

Competitive gaming[edit]

In the world of competitive games, rule imprecisions and non-goal oriented play are not commonplace. As a result, the extent of metagaming narrows down mostly to studying strategies of top players and exploiting commonly-used strategies for an advantage.[3] Those may evolve as updates are released or new, better, strategies are discovered by top players.[9] The opposite metagame of playing a relatively unknown strategy for surprisal is often called off-meta.[3][better source needed]

This usage is particularly common in games that have large, organized play systems or tournament circuits. Some examples of this kind of environment are tournament scenes for tabletop or computer collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game or Hearthstone, tabletop war-gaming such as Warhammer 40,000 and Flames of War, or team-based multiplayer online games such as Star Conflict, Dota 2, League of Legends, and Team Fortress 2. In some games, such as Heroes of the Storm, each battleground has a different metagame.[9]

The meta in these environments is often affected by new elements added by the game's developers and publishers, such as new card expansions in card games, or adjustments to character abilities in online games.[10] The metagame may also come within player communities as reactions to win over currently-popular strategies, creating ebbs and flows of strategy types over time.

Metagaming and cheating[edit]

In competitive games, more pervasive forms of metagaming like teaming in free-for-all multiplayer games can be interpreted as cheating or as bad sportsmanship.[11][1][12] Writer Richard Garfield's book, Lost in the Shuffle: Games Within Games, considers instead teaming as just a form of metagaming.[13] The practice of losing individual games to dodge stronger opponents in tournaments has also been interpreted as a form of metagaming,[3] sometimes considered as unfair.[11][1]

In esports[edit]

Exploiting the meta is commonplace in esports.[3] In StarCraft, a player's previous matches with the same opponent have given them insight into that player's play style and may cause them to make certain decisions which would otherwise seem inferior. Another instance of using the meta in esports was in 2012 at The International, a Dota 2 competition, when one team was able to exploit "predictable, economical strategies and that summer's metagame, the in-game decisions and team configurations that were fashionable" to counter a play by the other team.[1]: 215 

In fighting games, the meta is also played through character selection. The opposing character has various strengths that can be avoided and weaknesses that can be exploited more easily depending on the character you choose provided you are aware of those strengths and weaknesses (called a "match up"). For a basic example, a character with a projectile attack has the advantage over a grappler who must be close to the opponent to be effective. Match up metagaming is very important in tournament settings. In recent fighting games, blind select has been implemented for online modes. This makes it so that neither player can see what character the other player chose. In tournaments, players have the option to opt for a blind select where they tell a judge in confidence the character they intend to select in the match, making their character choice mandatory. A newer trend in more recently released titles is to allow the selection of multiple characters at once which the player can then switch between on the fly, rendering match-up picking excessively hard and virtually impractical.

In trading card games[edit]

In popular trading card games, such as Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon Trading Card Game, or Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game players compete with decks they have created in advance and the meta consists of the deck types that are currently popular and expected to show up in large numbers in a tournament. The knowledge of metagame trends can give players an edge against other participants, both while they are playing by quickly recognizing what kind of deck opponents have and guessing their likely cards or moves, and during the deck building process, by selecting cards that do well against current popular deck types at the possible expense of performance against rarer ones. Another example of metagaming would be bluffing opponents into expecting cards that you do not have, or surprising the competition with novel decks that they may not be prepared for. The secondary market of cards is heavily influenced by metagame trends: cards become more valuable when they are popular, often to the point of scarcity.[14]

In chess[edit]

Competitive chess has a well-defined meta in the form of chess openings and chess schools. A particular example are hypermodern openings. They became popular after World War I as high-ranked players like Aron Nimzowitsch started to play them.

A popular off-meta is to play unpopular openings for humor or for strategically denying subsequent use of opening theory.[15]

More narrowly, the playing history (meta) of a player or small group of players can be used to gain an advantage. A scholar's mate is a special set of moves can allow a player to win in four moves, usually by and against beginners. An example where this meta can be exploited by the opponent is as follows: competitor A has been watching Competitor B play chess, and the past five games in a row Competitor B has attempted to use this four-move win. When Competitor A sits down to play against Competitor B, Competitor A can play in a way to give them an advantage, assuming Competitor B repeats this line.

In tabletop games[edit]

In tabletop role-playing games, metagaming can refer to aspects of play that occur outside of a given game's fictional universe. In particular, metagaming often refers to having an in-game character act on knowledge that the player has access to, but the character should not. For example, having a character bring a mirror to defeat Medusa when they are unaware her gaze can petrify them, or being more cautious when the game is run by a merciless gamemaster.

Some consider metagaming to benefit oneself bad sportsmanship.[4][16] It is frowned upon in many role-playing communities, as it upsets suspension of disbelief, and affects game balance.[17][18] However, some narrativist indie role-playing games deliberately support metagaming and encourage shared storytelling among players.[17][18][19]

Game development[edit]

The metagame for game developers refers to the extra set of rules and logic that are independent to the core gameplay. This can involve extra progressions or economic market within the game that add mid- and long-term goals to players. Some researchers argue that having a metagame for players can increase engagement of those games.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Boluk, Stephanie; Lemieux, Patrick (2017). Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames. University of Minnesota Press. doi:10.5749/j.ctt1n2ttjx. ISBN 9781452954158.
  2. ^ a b Garfield, Richard (May 11, 2000). "Metagames". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on February 27, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Kokkinakis. "Metagaming and metagames in Esports". International Journal of Esports.
  4. ^ a b Senna, Manuel (2016). "Metadiscourse in Collaborative Narrative Construction" (PDF). Kwansei Gakuin University Humanities Review.
  5. ^ Mental Health Research Institute Publications. Mental Health Research Institute. 1956. p. 240.
  6. ^ Howard, Nigel (1966). "Metagame Analysis in Political Problems". Papers, Volumes 6-9. Peace Science Society (International). pp. 50–63.
  7. ^ A Model Study of the Escalation and De-escalation of Conflict, Volume 1. University of Pennsylvania Management Science Center. 1967. pp. 52–86.
  8. ^ Bulletin of the Operations Research Society of America, Volumes 15-16. Operations Research Society of America. 1967.
  9. ^ a b "Proving Grounds: The Geography of the MOBA Map". The Meta. 2016-09-22. Retrieved 2020-09-07.
  10. ^ Von Allen, Eric (December 15, 2016). "Pros react to Dota 2 Patch 7.00". ESPN. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
  11. ^ a b "What Is Metagaming? [A Beginner-Friendly Guide]". Techjury. Retrieved 2023-07-21.
  12. ^ "What is a metagame and why use it | Adjust". www.adjust.com. Retrieved 2023-07-21.
  13. ^ Garfield, Richard (1995), Lost in the Shuffle: Games Within Games
  14. ^ Miller, John Jackson (2003), Scrye Collectible Card Game Checklist & Gaylord, p. 17.
  15. ^ Kelemen, Luci (2023-01-29). "What is the Bongcloud Attack in chess?". Dot Esports. Retrieved 2023-07-19.
  16. ^ "Five Types of Troublesome Players – and How to Deal With Them". Mythcreants. 2014-04-18. Retrieved 2023-07-21.
  17. ^ a b Zalka, Csenge Virág (2019). Forum-Based Role Playing Games as Digital Storytelling. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers. pp. 66–78. ISBN 978-1-4766-3526-2. OCLC 1090499786.
  18. ^ a b Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy: Raiding the Temple of Wisdom. Jon Cogburn, Mark Silcox. Chicago: Open Court Pub. 2012. pp. 271–283. ISBN 978-0-8126-9803-9. OCLC 811563646.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  19. ^ Edwards, Ron (2001). "Chapter Three: Stance". GNS and Other Matters of Role-Playing Theory. The Forge. Retrieved 2006-06-27.
  20. ^ Brandstater, Nadav. "Council Post: Meta-Game: The Game Beyond The Game — And The Key To Fueling Engagement". Forbes. Retrieved 2024-02-08.