Meta in Gaming: What Does it All Mean?

5 minutes read

If you’re a keen follower of competitive eSports, or you livestream gaming personalities regularly online, there’s a good chance you will have heard of the term meta in gaming.

Meta in gaming has shaped the evolution of the industry in recent times, both in terms of game design and how gamers interact and engage with new releases.

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What is the Meaning of Meta?

In basic terms, meta in gaming focuses on strategies and skills used in the end game or competitive elements of gaming. The aim of meta is to give gamers peak performance and enable them to be the best.

The meta game includes gamers using their real-world expertise to gain an in-game advantage.

This could be learning and testing the optimal strategies or even gaining awareness of the latest game updates, glitches, and bugs that can provide them with a competitive, often unfair advantage.

When Did the Term “Meta Gaming” First Transpire?

Using meta in gaming can be found back in 1956 with zero-sum games in a report from the Mental Health Research Institute. 15 years later, Nigel Howard published a book titled “Paradoxes of Rationality: Theory of Metagames and Political Behavior”.

Howard used the term metagames in the context of the ongoing Cold War as an alternative to prisoner’s dilemma – an approach used for years when getting under the skin of game theory.

At the beginning of the new millennium, game designer Richard Garfield helped bring the metagame into a new universe by defining its next-generation purpose as “how a game interfaces beyond itself” at the Game Developers Conference in 2000.

The Representation of Meta in Gaming Today

Meta in gaming is used to describe the latest strategic methods and trends among those who play a particular game.

It is particularly common for metagaming to occur in card-based or collectible games, as well as team-based multiplayer games where specific battlegrounds and arenas have their very own metagames.

These metagames are typically influenced by the game developers themselves. That’s because certain cards, arenas, or battlegrounds may often receive enhancements over time from publishers.

These include game expansions such as new attributes for cards or in-game characters, and even new items and weaponry for the latest MMO games.

Meta in RPGs

In the context of modern RPG games, meta in gaming is most commonly used to denote a gamer’s use of the accepted traits of a game.

For instance, a player would be metagaming if they used an in-game character to carry out in-game actions that the player knows but the character could not.

If a gamer discovers the long-term strategy of the overarching gamemaster, if they adjust their in-game actions to enable their character to thrive, then this would be deemed a form of meta gaming.

Meta in gaming can also be found in fighting games. A prime example is in the character match-up screen when a player decides which fighters to play with and fight against.

They may take the time to assess each potential opponent’s strengths and weaknesses before picking a fighter that can easily neutralize their strengths and maximize the weaknesses of their opponents.

To counteract this, some of the competitive eSports fighting titles have adopted blind selections to further randomize the outcome of fighter picks; thereby curbing meta in gaming mechanics and placing a greater emphasis on player skill.

Is Meta in Gaming Always Legitimate or Intended by Developers?

Ultimately, it depends on what context metagaming is used. In highly competitive video gaming, such as eSports, metagaming represents the peak of performance, where pros use the latest strategies and equipment to compete.

However, this is a fine line, and some interpretations of metagaming prompt a negative reaction from gamers. One of the biggest forms of meta manipulation is stream sniping. This involves using another gamer's live stream to obtain knowledge to use against them in-game.

A player could live stream their opponent's Twitch stream and gain an edge on their in-game positions and actions. The result is that stream sniping in competitive gaming environments can cause such devious and calculated gamers to be banned from some games.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are instances where bugs can unwittingly rear their head in-game.

Bugs are par for the course in video game development. However, there are cases where gamers have discovered the bugs before the developers, allowing them to take advantage of certain glitches.  In most examples of bugs and glitches, these are discovered coincidentally.

Gamers don't typically go out on a limb and attempt to manipulate a game's code and push it to its limits. Of course, some gamers train themselves to think like video game developers and seek those exploits to add to their metagame.

Somewhere in the middle of this spectrum on meta in gaming is the plethora of opportunities for gamers to abuse game mechanics to gain an in-game advantage.

For example, in some racing games you can use speed boosts, and here gamers have often used "snaking". These mini-turbo boosts can be performed almost non-stop around circuits just by continuously drifting back and forth.

In adventure games, gamers have long since engaged in an exploit known as "kiting" - whereby players lead the AI enemies into the most advantageous positions for the player to strike.

Is Effective Gaming Fair?

However, the gaming market is becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace. With more games to choose from than ever before, the need for effective and fair meta in gaming is apparent for developers to help their titles stand out from the crowd.

There is a sense that legitimate meta in gaming will help to drive greater value from your paid-for titles – and even your free-to-play picks too.

With new layers of gameplay and engagement, it’s little wonder that gamers are growing more invested in their favorite titles than before.

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