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Metagaming is any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. Another definition refers to the game universe outside of the game itself.
In simple terms, it is the use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one's in-game decisions.
The term metagame is a mathematic descriptor for set interaction governing subset interaction. The term passed from military use into political parlance to describe events outside conventional bounds that, in fact, play an important role in a game's outcome. For example, a military operation might be a game with its political ramifications being the metagame. Similarly, the passage of a law might be a game, with the political environment into which that law fits being the metagame.
Similarly, a game might be the passing of a law lacking majority support. The group opposing the law, benefiting in the metagame from the passage of said law, encourage their own members to vote in favor of the legislation.
Metagaming might also refer to a game which functions to create or modify the rules of a sub-game with the purpose of maximizing the subgame's ruleset. Thus, we might play a metagame of optimizing the rules of "chess-like" games to maximize the satisfaction of play, and perhaps arrive at the rules of standard chess as an optimum. This is related to mechanism design theory in which the metagame would be to create or make changes in the management rules or policy of an organization to maximize its effectiveness or profitability. Constitutional design can be seen as a metagame of assembling the provisions of a written constitution to optimize a balance of values such as justice, liberty, and security, with the constitution being the rules of the game of government that would result. Nigel Howard defines the "metagame" as the decision-making process that derivates from the analysis of possible outcomes depending on external variables that alter a problem.
Another game-related use of the term "metagaming" refers to operating on knowledge of the current strategic trends within a game. This usage is common in games that have large, organized play systems or tournament circuits and which feature customized decks of cards, sets of miniatures or other playing pieces for each player. Some examples of this kind of environment are tournament scenes for tabletop or computer collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone, tabletop war-gaming such as Warhammer 40,000 or Flames of War, or team-based multiplayer games such as Dota 2, League of Legends, and Team Fortress 2.
- there is a special set of moves in chess which allows a player to win in four moves. 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 will be metagaming if he/she plays in a way that will easily thwart the four-move checkmate before Competitor B makes it obvious that this is what he/she is doing.
- In role-playing games, a player is metagaming when they use knowledge that is not available to their character in order to change the way they play their character (usually to give them an advantage within the game), such as knowledge of the mathematical nature of character statistics, or the statistics of a creature that the player is familiar with but the character has never encountered. It can also include plot information, such as renaming a character with a false name to their real name before it is revealed.
- In modern computer games, particularly in casual, mobile and tablet games, the out-of-game play achievements which give you bonuses in the game itself are considered metagame elements as they are games outside of the real game. Also known as Reward systems, Achievement games, augmented reality games and gamification.
- Any game with a spectator team that does not participate in gameplay could be prone to metagaming. If a spectator were to reveal information to a team or individual that they could not have gained otherwise, he/she would be metagaming, due to the fact that he/she "goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game".
- In popular trading card games, such as Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game players compete with decks they have created in advance and the "metagame" 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.
- In fighting games, metagaming may occur at the character select screen. 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.
- Many logic puzzles allow an analogue of metagaming. By convention, logic puzzles are only considered well-constructed if they have a unique solution. When solving a puzzle, one might notice that if a certain candidate symbol were placed in one square, there would be multiple ways to complete another part of the puzzle, and no extra information could possibly decide between them. Ruling out that candidate on these grounds would be metagaming.
- In the cooperative card game Hanabi virtually all the strategy is dependent on metagame, such as the widespread convention that players discard unclued cards from a fixed side of their hand and add new cards from the opposite side. The metagame can go several levels deep. For instance, one may indicate that an unclued card just added to a hand is a playable 3-White by cluing the 4-White in a different player's hand (this is known as "finesse"). But if a player is aware that everyone in the game is familiar with finesse, they may merely pretend to finesse in order to get some other card played: perhaps it was not a 3-White, but some other card that was nonetheless also playable.
- As an example, PHD Richard Garfield shares an experience of a competitive game where players can team up to gain an advantage, but if they decide to betray their allies way before the end of the game, for several games, other players will learn not to trust them to the point where no one will be willing to establish a partnership with this players considerably reducing their chance to win the game. Referring to the metagame as the game beyond the game.
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