Against the "Metagame"

By Alex Kierkegaard / October 17, 2014

Videogame Culture: Volume II

There is no "metagaming" in life, because nothing exists outside of life, and that's why everything is allowed there. But in a game everything is NOT allowed, because there IS a space outside a game, and a rather vast space at that too, and everything is forbidden there. For this is the essence of gaming: The lack of complete freedom, which is not imposed on the players, but voluntarily assumed by them. It consists in the unanimously agreed upon and absolute sovereignty, not of laws, but of rules.

Alex Kierkegaard, Orgy of the Will

The so-called "metagame", as referred to by "competitive" gamers (which is to say by aspies), is merely a form of cheating. It consists of trawling FAQs, message boards and YouTube channels to learn of strategies which you are supposed to be DEVISING ON YOUR OWN BY PLAYING THE ACTUAL GAME. In his essay, Dr. Mundolove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Metagame, we see the mighty Sullla telling us that not following the "metagame" is stupid, and that we should follow it if we want to win and have more fun.
   So basically, if you start playing a game a couple of years after the majority of people, when the two or three best strategies (and their counters, if any), have been discovered, you should just go on a FAQ and memorize them, and basically cheat yourself out of all the fun you could be having exploring the game and working up to them yourself. This is exactly the same strategy as playing an adventure game with a FAQ from start to finish, a practice which in the old days we called CHEATING. It makes no difference if you are cheating the AI or humans. Playing Monkey Island with a FAQ is as much cheating as memorizing build orders in StarCraft that you found on some forum thread. The designers put these strategies in the game in order for you to work them out IN THE GAME, not in order to launch you on a scavenger hunt across the internet to find them. "Metagaming" then, as the "competitive" players understand it, is adding a layer to the game that the designers did not create, the WEB-BROWSING layer, and the skills required to succeed in it are very different from the skills the actual game demands. At the end of the day, then, the question is whether you prefer to spend dozens upon dozens of hours navigating with Firefox or Chrome, skimming forum threads and fast-forwarding YouTube videos, OR PLAYING THE ACTUAL GAME. So just as I've shown (in my scoring essay) that scoring in games creates a game OUTSIDE the game (the king-of-the-ladder game), while demoting the actual game to a mini-game, so does "metagaming" demote once again the actual game by subordinating it to web-browsing.
   The bottom line then is whether you prefer the game to web-browsing. If you prefer the game, then web-browsing is OFF LIMITS.
   Zero web-browsing. None. The only reading up you can do on a game is its manual, if it has one, and any tutorials included with the game or that are available on its official site. Even wikis are not a good idea (since they occasionally contain comments on advanced strategies, which once again YOU SHOULD BE DISCOVERING ON YOUR OWN BY PLAYING THE ACTUAL GAME).
   "And what about all the stomping I'll receive if I play the game like that?", some people may wonder at this point. Well, when I play games like Civilization or Age of Empires, I play them right away at the maximum map sizes, with the maximum number of opponents allowed, and at the highest difficulty settings, WHILE NOT EVEN BOTHERING TO READ THE MANUAL. So the game hits me immediately with everything it's got, and it takes days (for AoE) or weeks (for Civ-type) games before I can get a single victory in. Dozens and even hundreds of defeats before I get a single victory in. And moreover, once I do get that single victory in, the game is over for me — I can barely bring myself to touch it again, because I already know, more or less, how to beat my toughest opponent. So the game, despite how much I love it, becomes unplayable for me at that point. So why would I NOT want a great game which, instead of taking me mere days and weeks to master, takes me fucking MONTHS and YEARS? (as all great competitive games will naturally do if they have large online communities of people who've been developing strategies for years).
   So what if my Win/Loss ratio is basically zero? That's the same with every single-player game I've ever played. For example arcade games. How many hundreds or thousands of credits does it take you to 1CC a game? And once you 1CC it once, you practically never touch it again. A SINGLE win is enough for you in that case, so why is not a single win enough for you when playing against humans?
   ...Because they are human (and you aren't).
   As for the cheating allegation, Sullla's argument here would be that "metagaming" is not cheating BECAUSE EVERYONE DOES IT. The equivalent in single-player games would be if you are playing Monkey Island with a FAQ, for example, and the AI observes you doing this via Kinect, and then changes the puzzles in real-time lol, so that your FAQ will be useless. So in this sense, playing the "metagame" (i.e. the web-browsing game) is not cheating. But it is still cheating YOURSELF OUT OF THE FUN YOU COULD BE HAVING by discovering everything inside the game instead of outside of it. That is how you can see that Sullla and his ilk do not really love the games they are playing (and why they are therefore often playing mediocre games, simply because these games have a large playerbase and an intricate "metagame" — i.e. web-browsing game extension). If they really loved these games their instinct would rebel the moment they were forced to discover their strategies on YouTube instead of while playing the games, but not only does their instinct not rebel, but it even ends up enjoying this far more than the actual game, and urges everyone else to do the same, and move the action from the game's interface to Firefox.
   Or they will say that that's why "skillbased execution" is always "an important part of any game", and that "no one just reads a FAQ on StarCraft 2 and then becomes a Korean god" — all the while conveniently ignoring that we are talking about tactical or strategy games here, in which execution is merely ONE of the skills that they demand. The main skill is devising tactics and strategies, and if you take these from the internet you are demolishing that very important aspect of the game (its essential feature, even). Besides which, there's no "execution" aspect in turn-based games like Civilization or adventure games like Monkey Island, and that's why these games are COMPLETELY destroyed the moment you decide to start playing them with a FAQ. That a real-time game like StarCraft is not completely destroyed by this inane practice, but only 50% destroyed, is not exactly a justification of what you are doing to it (cigarettes don't kill you either, as smokers are fond of saying — they just destroy your health), which is essentially reducing it to an arcade game of who can more quickly and efficiently click a mouse around according to a predetermined pattern. We already have far better games that do this (they are called action games), and they don't require the player to spend entire months of his life hunting down clues on what that pattern is on online message boards.
   Another counter-argument Sullla would bring is that the in-game discovery never ceases, since no matter how advanced the "metagame" will get, there will always be new, more advanced strategies to discover inside the game, and someone will need to play the game to discover them. The FRONTIER of strategies, he will say, is where the REAL game is, when using the "metagame". But this argument is flawed because it assumes that games have infinite complexity. Example: Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance, in which, as I have heard, the best strategies have all been long discovered. So if you buy this game, and immediately read up on these strategies, you have almost robbed yourself of the joy of playing the game at all. Nor has the game become unplayable for you, as it has for the "metagamers", if you refuse to do this. You can simply round up a bunch of your friends who've never played the game, and dive into it for as many weeks or months of joy it contains while completely ignoring the aspies. And voila, problem solved. Games do not have infinite complexity, and if you advocate "metagaming" you are advocating the reduction (and DRASTIC reduction, considering how many and how hard-working "metagaming" aspie losers there are out there) of the usable, enjoyable complexity for any player who falls prey to your decadent ideology of gaming.
   Now, my ideology of ZERO WEB-BROWSING does have one downside. It basically excludes all co-op play, because if you genuinely want to discover every single strategy on your own, you must avoid teammates, who will naturally discover at least some stuff ahead of you, and will therefore "spoil" it for you by revealing them to you. I mean, hell, you would even want to avoid extremely advanced OPPONENTS (all of whom will certainly be web-browsing "metagamers"), since observing and copying their tactics at first-hand should also help you advance far faster than you would if you were playing against people on roughly your own level at each stage of your development.
   But this sort of "spoiling" is not really spoiling — it's part of the attraction of co-op (and versus) play. I mean it IS spoiling to an extent — but it is a kind of spoiling I could compromise with, because the loss of pleasure of finding out everything on your own is counter-balanced by the added pleasure of playing with human partners and against human opponents.
   The spoiling of co-op and versus play has a cost in pleasure, but also a reward IN the game. The spoiling of web-browsing has absolutely NO reward in the game, but only OUTSIDE OF IT (on the ladder, your win/loss ratio). That is why, as an art critic and art theorist, I endorse the former and condemn the latter. The End.
   But it's not really the end now, is it, since the retarded objections that the aspies will concoct to justify their autism have no end. So they will say, for example, that StarCraft has been changing its balance for dozens of patches, and that LOL changes its champion roster continually. The price a game has to pay, in other words, in order to remain playable in the long term to "metagamers" (i.e. to cheaters) is to keep changing itself (i.e. to keep becoming a different game). But is this an argument for the metagame or against it? It's like a movie that requires its crew to keep extending it forever, because some retards in the audience insist on watching it on fast-forward, and keep complaining when it ends on them after a couple minutes.
   The worst thing about this whole business, however, is that no one has even noticed how retarded the very term "metagame" is. For what IS this "metagame" after all? What exactly does it entail and what does it consist of? The "metagame" is actually defined — and correctly defined — as "interaction between the players outside the game", i.e. on video hosting sites and online message boards, as we've already seen. But if you are going to stalk and pester the other players outside the game, why not go the whole hog and track down their IP address, find out where they live, and send someone over to knock out their internet connection or cut the power to their house while they are playing the goddamn game? Isn't that a stronger, far more effective and far more final "metagame" move than to try and steal their strategies by spending all day clicking around the internet like the retarded little fag that you are? That's the option I would go for, at any rate, if I decided to get into the "metagaming" retardation at some point for whatever reasons (which is to say for ca$hmoney). Hell, I'd fucking send someone over to their house to cap them in the face, game over, one by one, every single retarded little abortion of an aspie loser, until the only player left in the tournament would be me, and therefore end up declared by default the champion. And I wouldn't even have to play your goddamn shitty and ugly game to do it. "So good at the game" (or at the metagame, if you catch my drift) "that he doesn't even have to play it in order to win at it". That's how icycalm rolls. The only videogame critic and theorist to draw the ultimate conclusion from the whole "metagame" fagotry, end of story.

P.S. and tl;dr: If you are posting on Insomnia's Strategy board you are FORBIDDEN to share strategies you've discovered by web-browsing. All strategies you discuss there should be observations that YOU YOURSELF HAVE MADE WHILE PLAYING THE GAME (or which you have discussed with your teammates while playing the game). To this end, duplicate threads may be allowed if a game is being played by two separate teams.

Videogame Culture: Volume I


Men of Great Genius

The Stupidest Word in Videogames
Arcade Culture
In the Name of Consistency
Reviewing Ports and Compilations
Sequel: The Videogame
No More "Parodies"
On "Values" for "Monies"
Can Games "be Art?", and other Childish Nonsense
Message my Ass
On Role-playing Games
The RPG Conundrum
The Nuts and Bolts are as Important as the Ones and Zeros
The Videogame News Racket
Does Anyone Hate Anything Anymore?
Non-games are for Non-gamers
Casual Reviews are for Casual Gamers
Mini-games are for Mini-gamers
On Complexity, Depth and Skill
The Second Stupidest Word in Videogames
On New Games Journalism
Leave Ranking to the Experts
Beyond the Videogame News Racket
How Good Exactly is Perfect?
Cocksucking Videogameland
Basic Instincts
On "Emergent" Game Behavior and other Miracles
On Insects and their Laws
The Simulacrum is True
A Gamer's Guide to the Internet: Prologue
Hardware Porn: Prologue
A Brief History of Cutscenes
On Action and Reaction
On "Pluralism"
The Myth of Independence
On Mane Streems and Niches
On Why I Am The Best Videogame Player In The World
On Why Scoring Sucks And Those Who Defend It Are Aspies
On the Relative Irrelevance of "Balance"
Bad Try, So No Cigar
Reviewing Textures
On Narrative Delusions


On the Genealogy of "Art Games": A Polemic


Historia abscondita

First Essay: The Absurd Circularity of the Pseudo-Art Game
Second Essay: The Evolving Artforms and their Parasites
Third Essay: The Message of the Medium


Videogame Culture: Volume II

There Can Be Only One

Following Nietzsche

On Set Theory and the Bastardization Process
Against the "Metagame"
On Meta- and Mini-gaming
R.I.P., Nintendo: An Introduction to the Tree of Gaming
Why Versus Multiplayer Games Are Worse Games Than JRPGs
The Downside to Playing Games with Icy and His Friends
On Why Bigger Has Always Been Better, And Why It Always Will Be
Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions
The Motion-Sensing Dead End
What Is Wrong With Sports Games
Aesthetics and Mechanics and the Grand Unified Theory
The Console Wars Are Over
Why Steam Curation Algorithms Are Doomed To Eternal Failure
The Myth of Accessibility
Why Science Fiction Is The Ultimate Videogame Theme
The Myth of Toxicity
Why The Best Games Also Have The Best Graphics
How to Deal with Backlogs
Why I Don't Bother With Card Games
VR Is Stalling For No Reason
On Nerd Psychology and The Ultimate Goal of Videogames
Against Retro
How Art Works
Defining Cutscenes
Designing An MMORPG That Doesn't Suck, or The True Episodic Gaming
The Death of Discussion
How To Not Use Genres Like A Retard
How Devs Like Naughty Dog and Sucker Punch are Holding Gaming to Ransom
Bugs my Ass
Why You Should Play More Games
The Joy of Good Criticism
King of the Nerds
The Complete Package
The Supreme Criterion
How Consoles Went From Awesome To Necessary Evil
Interactivity Isn't Optional
Understanding the Crowdfunding "Revolution"
Ideas vs. Coding
The Inevitable Death and Improbable Resurrection of Variety Games
"Indie" Syndrome is Artistic Down Syndrome
How Hardcore Gamers Can Remain Sane & Healthy
On the Creative Bankruptcy of Goal-less Game Design, or Creativity my Ass
Why Gitting Gud at Videogames is for Losers
Why the Highest Artform Attracts the Lowest Lifeforms

ORDER NOW (Ships Autumn 2020)

Videogame Culture: Volume III

Quantum of Game Design
The Ultimate Singleplayer vs. Multiplayer Essay
On the Worthlessness of Game Academics
The Art of Cover Art, or How To Judge A Game By Its Cover
On Genre and the Tree of Gaming
On Difficulty, Fun, and the Impossibility of Playing to Lose
On Journalism's Irrelevance
On the Worthlessness of Game Academics
On "Indies" and "Dependies", or The "Indie" Game Conundrum
An Insomniac's Guide to Great Games
Dungeon Crawling
Notes on the Arcade Culture
Shooting Love
Defining Cutscenes
To Save, or not to Save, That is the Question
Why Old-timers Hate Handhelds
On Grinding
The Truth About Emulation
On Videogame Forums
A Matter of Tradition
How Hard is your Core? (or, The New Casuals)
The Third Stupidest Word in Videogames
Industry, Shmindustry
On Game Guides
Retrogression & Decadence
The Fourth Stupidest Word in Videogames
The Console and the End of Videogame Hardware
Who Really Killed Adventure Games
Western Videogame Art Design and the Cult of the Grotesque
The Myth of Innovation
Videogames & Simulation
Responsibility my Ass
Medium, Shmedium
Pressing Buttons
The Cinematic Videogame
Acquiring Taste
A History of Violence
The Mise-en-Jeu
The New Games Criticism
Confessions of a Game Reviewer

COMING SOON (Ships Autumn 2020)

See Also

Videogame Art