Meta Games

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Games based on the effects and outcomes of other games.

Some games are constructed around what happens in other games. These "indirect" games are Meta Games, and as such, they usually put totally different demands on the participants than do the underlying games. In some cases, for example in betting on horse or dogs races, the underlying game may not be a proper game (and the participants may not be aware that they are participating in a game), but the participants of the Meta Game may even so treat the activity as a game.

Examples

Betting on the outcome of games is a classic form of Meta Games. In these Meta Games, the skill required by players ranges from having the actual actions used in the games to having knowledge about the current condition and tactics of the participants in the game or activity being bet upon.

Tournaments are a common form of Meta Games where individual results of games are used as input to the Tournament. For many sports, e.g. Basketball, Soccer, Ice Hockey, playing the game in this fashion is the normal way of organized games.

Some Programming Games, e.g. Crobots and P-Robots, are Meta Games which consist of creating the code that controls the behavior of agents in games. Another example of this is the tournament of Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma arranged by Robert Axelrod to find successful strategies for the game[1].

Using the pattern

Meta Games can be created through requiring games to be played several times. Tournaments are classic examples of using Minigames together with Trans-Game Information to create Meta Games. Related to this is Team Development in games where the Teams are maintained between game instances (rather than all team matches being within the same game instance). A second group of examples are games with short Levels solved through Puzzle Solving where each level can be seen as its own game. A third group of examples use Back-to-Back Game Sessions, which typically are used in games with Asymmetric Starting Conditions (e.g. Chess and Memoir '44).

There are several types of Meta Games that can be used to let players compete against themselves or have additional challenges from a game. Both these may require several game instances to be played, but this differs from the previous cases by not specifying how many game instances are needed or if more than one is needed and if the games have Time Limited Game Instances players can have good control over how long time the Meta Games should take. High Score Lists and Speedruns allow players to try at have better gameplay performance that previous players while Easter Eggs can give purpose to carefully exploring Game Worlds. Open Destiny encourage players to replay games to see what variations in outcomes are possible for Player Characters or Non-Player Characters. Achievements of all types (i.e. Goal, Grind, Handicap, and Testing) can be used to let players have explicit Meta Games in wanting to collect them. More generally, the presence of Optional Goals in any game allows players to create Meta Games depending on completing these Optional Goals.

The above suggestions for creating Meta Games can work for individual game consoles. However, by automating the transferal of Trans-Game Information players can be offered Meta Games involving many more players up to all players that have ever played the game. Examples of patterns that support these types of Meta Games include Global High Score Lists, Handicap Systems, and Public Player Statistics. Massively Single-Player Online Games also do this although less directly; here the other players' game instances do affect each other but not necessarily out of either Competition or Cooperation. Most of these solutions require Dedicated Game Facilitators to keep track of gameplay statistics or handle resources. When the games these types of Meta Games are built upon have Time Limited Game Instances, the effect is to provide players with Drop-In/Drop-Out gameplay.

A less common type of Meta Games are created by not letting people be players of a game, i.e. be Zero-Player Games, but challenges them to create the AI Players that are to play the game. Action Programming is the simplest form of this, since the Agents do not need to be able to react to the environment; creating Algorithmic Agents is more complex since these do have to be able to react. Creating Mules provides a similar type of Meta Games but here the purpose is for players to to avoid having to do repetitious tasks themselves. However, as 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness shows, the pattern Zero-Player Games can be enough in itself to create Meta Games.

While game designers can create Meta Games for players, players can often easily do so themselves if they are inclined to create Self-Facilitated Games. The simplest examples of this is Betting on the outcome of a game. Related to this are games with Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership; here Game Element Trading creates Meta Games of getting specific sets of game elements but players can also in these cases easily create Meta Games using Betting with the game elements themselves as the prizes. Marble Games and Magic: The Gathering are examples of games where this kind of Betting occurs. Related to this is Card Building and Deck Building; these patterns allow for players to modify individual Cards or the Cards in Decks and when these modification span game instances they spawn Meta Games. Note that the actions that allow these types of Meta Games do not have to have actions in common with the inner games; players can engage in Deck Building in Magic: The Gathering purely through buying and trading Cards as Extra-Game Actions (i.e. without any Betting). Legacy Games, which can be created through Card Building or Deck Building between game instances, is another form of Meta Games formed by the events that happen in one game instance affecting later game instances in a designed series of game instances.

While the time between the individual games can be handled by players for non-mediated games, some support for this is needed for Mediated Gameplay. For large games, this may be done through Meta Servers storing and communicating Trans-Game Information to Game Servers but in many cases Game Servers are sufficient to handle both levels. However, Game Lobbies are typically provided in both cases so that the players can socially interact between (or during) games.

Consequences

Meta Games make their underlying games have Extra-Game Consequences that affect the Meta Games through Trans-Game Information, or from the perspective of the underlying games create Extra-Game Actions in relation to those games. This can modify players' Risk/Reward choices in the underlying game and allow Spectators of one game to be players in another game where they can make use of this Trans-Game Information. This can also make Single-Player Games have Multiplayer Games built on top of them simply because players can compare their game sessions. As people can create Meta Games based on any game design, avoiding the presence of the pattern is beyond game designers' control. This however shows how Meta Games allow players to create their own Player Defined Goals.

Meta Games built on having inner games with Time Limited Game Instances, e.g. Poker, make it easy for players of Self-Facilitated Games to have Negotiable Game Instance Duration for the Meta Games since players can after each finished game instance make a decision on continuing to play or not. However, it can also cause Downtime to players that have to wait for other players' game sessions to end due to Unsynchronized Game Sessions.

Since Meta Games can create Perceivable Margins regarding player skills, they do modulate Gameplay Mastery through making it easier to notice those who are experts in a game. One way this can materialize is through the use of persistent Handicap Systems that rate player skills, something found for example in Go and Golf, and these ratings in effect become a form of "meta" Score. For Unwinnable Games, having Meta Games on top of them can provide goals and motivations on trying to progress further than one otherwise might care to do. All Meta Games that require players to engage in several game instances of a game give this game Replayability.

Meta Games based on players having Creative Control on how to construction Algorithmic Agents, e.g. Crobots, can give rise to games with No Direct Player Influence.

Relations

Can Instantiate

Extra-Game Actions, Extra-Game Consequences, Perceivable Margins, Player Defined Goals, Replayability, Trans-Game Information

with Algorithmic Agents and Creative Control

No Direct Player Influence

with Handicap Systems

Scores

with Single-Player Games

Multiplayer Games

with Time Limited Game Instances and Self-Facilitated Games

Negotiable Game Instance Duration

with Dedicated Game Facilitators and Time Limited Game Instances

Drop-In/Drop-Out

with Unsynchronized Game Sessions

Downtime

Can Modulate

Gameplay Mastery, Risk/Reward, Spectators, Unwinnable Games

Can Be Instantiated By

Action Programming, Achievements, Algorithmic Agents, Back-to-Back Game Sessions, Card Building, Deck Building, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Easter Eggs, Game Element Trading, Game Servers, Global High Score Lists, Goal Achievements, Grind Achievements, Handicap Achievements, Handicap Systems, Heterogeneous Game Element Ownership, High Score Lists, Legacy Games, Massively Single-Player Online Games, Mules, Open Destiny, Optional Goals, Public Player Statistics, Speedruns, Team Development, Testing Achievements, Tournaments, Zero-Player Games

AI Players together with Zero-Player Games

Betting together with Self-Facilitated Games

Minigames together with Trans-Game Information

Levels together with Puzzle Solving

Meta Servers together with Game Servers

Can Be Modulated By

Time Limited Game Instances

Game Lobbies in games with Mediated Gameplay

Possible Closure Effects

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Potentially Conflicting With

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History

An updated version of the pattern Meta Games that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[2].

References

  1. Wikipedia [1] entry for Prisoner's Dilemma.
  2. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.

Acknowledgements

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