Friday, December 11, 2009

Serious Vocabulary Used Casually

I apologize for my loose use of certain vocabulary. I caused more confusion than I can stand, so I’d like to address the issue directly.

I need to come up with words to refer to more complicated thoughts about game design. I do not have the time (unfortunately) to read through even all of the best blog posts by game designers available, so I can’t constantly be double-checking each piece of terminology I think I coin or reuse against established (or even informal) standards.

“Serious” Games 

In my post about “serious” games, I could have simply called them “deep” games. I did not initially think about this, because I thought of such games as games to be approached seriously and analyzed deeply as opposed to games approached as entertainment and discarded casually. I was vaguely aware of the previous definition of serious games, but thought it didn’t have much application these days so hijacking the word wouldn’t lead to much commotion. I was wrong—I need to start calling “serious” games something else.


The word “metagame” does not have a strongly established meaning in general use. It has several specific meanings that sometimes overlap and sometimes have significantly different connotations. “Metagame” is associated with the concept of “metagaming” which has a wikipedia article that outlines its various usages.

  1. Making moves in a smaller-scale game with an eye towards affecting a larger-scale game instead of simply attempting to win the smaller-scale game.
  2. (as a noun) A system for creating or modifying game rules.
  3. Using knowledge from outside of the game to strategize within the game. (This is partially the meaning I use.)
  4. Exploiting game mechanics by using outside knowledge. (This definition leads to a negative connotation common to some gamers.)
  5. In role-playing games: Having one’s character act based on knowledge that the character wouldn’t have but the player does have.

The definition I use is a variant on (3):

The metagame is the process (or the current state) of players’ exploration of the strategic space of the game. This knowledge exists and is perpetuated outside of the game itself and advances over time as the community tests and debunks more candidate strategies.

My definition is a bit more specific than any of those above. In fact, “metagame” could be distinct in its definition from a word that appears to be derived from it, in this case “metagaming.” I may continue to use the word “metagame” with my meaning in the future, but link back here for the definition, or I can come up with a (hopefully) new word.

Any suggestions for better words I can use to refer to what I’ve previously called “serious” games and the “metagame”?


motstandet said...

The Metagame is a game about the game itself.

I think "hardcore" might be a good word for your definition. Reading, learning, and thinking about a game while not playing is a very hardcore activity.

Someone with a hardcore mindset will dream up the best strategy to use in an RTS using only the mechanics of the game itself. Someone playing the metagame will gamble on someone using that popular strategy and opt to use its counter without knowing for sure what the opponent is executing.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

As we've discussed before, terminology is frustrating for game developers. There's few standardized terms, and what few we have mostly started out by someone making an off-the-cuff statement. The acronym MMORPG being the notable offender here. But, without precise terminology we have troubles communicating.

In your previous article, you seemed to focus mostly on strategy and planning in games. Instead of "serious games" perhaps "deep strategic games"? A bit clumsy, perhaps.

For "metagame", I think what you were referring to had elements of metagaming, as I said. Perhaps "metagame strategy development"? That would seem to fit most of the situations you covered.

I think you had some really interesting things to say, but with the confusing terminology I think your point was getting lost, unfortunately.

evizaer said...

"Deep strategy games" is too confining. "Deep Games" makes more sense. Adding "strategy" is, well, unnecessary because it is implied in "deep".

"Metagame strategy development" is too clumsy. I shouldn't have metagame involved at all. The definition I invented for "metagame" wasn't particularly good anyway and might have been too strict. Really, the "metagame" is just the current state of the exploration of the strategy space a game presents. Games that don't have a strategy space deep enough to swim in don't have strategy space exploration as a meaningful element.

"Strategy-space Exploration" is probably the phrase I'd want to use. I could probably just shorten it to "strategy exploration."

lexsol said...

I think you described it aptly as "better designed" lol.

I also love how you go on a long post about how words are contextual, and rely on eachother for meaning, and are assigned meaning, while in this, albeit previous post you worry worry worry about the specific meaning of words.

You defined what you meant by the phrases fairly well. I understood what you were talking about, and you clarified pretty well that you were hijacking the words in a sense. The people who complain are strange people indeed. They're the kind of people who thing words are tangible, permanent objects that can't be changed. Personally I had never heard of 'serious games' being defined as 'games that are used for purposes other than entertainment'. In the context of my experience, I wouldn't have made that connection. My idea falls more in line with yours..but that other guy is obviously older maybe? So he has a different point of view.

The point is, you defined what you were talking about well. But, as always, some people can't deal with the mutability and intangibility of words. haha :p

In the end, if your message is successful, then you've succeeded in the use of language. Since it's only use is communication.

evizaer said...


I do agree with you, but...

"I also love how you go on a long post about how words are contextual, and rely on eachother for meaning, and are assigned meaning, while in this, albeit previous post you worry worry worry about the specific meaning of words."

If people are misunderstanding my post, the honus lies on me to clarify and ensure that, even if my readers are being unreasonable, they can get a meaning close that that which I desire from my writing.

If I succeed in relaying a message to myself, I have succeeded in nothing. Only in relaying the message to others does my writing matter at all. If the meanings I picked clearly are being ignored or otherwise are not working, I need to act on that, regardless of how unreasonable people are being about the definitions they choose for words I've clearly defined.

nivra said...

It seems like you want to say that existing MMO's such as WoW have no metagame, but your definition doesn't exclude them. In fact, your definition pretty much fits theorycrafting to a tee.

The one distinction I might see is that your definition may want to differentiate pvp and rvr strategy vs pve strategy. But if a game is "deep" enough to require in-depth metagame theorycraft for pve, then why does that disqualify it?

I think you may need to clarify why existing MMO's requiring sophisticated, in-depth theorycraft are not adequate enough for you. The following is a great example of sophisticated "outside-of-game" knowledge informing in-game strategy:
The conclusions and strategies derived from that thread become vital to in-game strategies with respect to tank gearing, threat, rotation, etc, but none of that knowledge could have ever been derived without the use of out-of-game modeling tools.