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Interview: Zimmerman's 'Metagame' Piques Interest Of Gamers, Educators

Interview: Zimmerman's 'Metagame' Piques Interest Of Gamers, Educators

April 7, 2011 | By Cassandra Khaw




In 2006, game designers Eric Zimmerman and Frank Lantz collaborated on the original Metagame: a project intended for a special issue of Wired Magazine.

Essentially a board game about "arguing about games," the Metagame was phenomenally well-received when it debuted at the Game Developers Conference 2007, something that led to an eventual appearance on MTV.

For GDC 2011, Local No. 12, an experimental game collective comprised of Mike Edwards, Colleen Macklin, John Sharp and Zimmerman, took the core concepts behind the Metagame and turned it into a massively multiplayer card game.

The gameplay for the card version still revolves around comparing two games with a comparison question -- such as Which game is deeper or Which game tells a better story." But with the card-based iteration of the game, players use a personal collection of cards that "grow and change over time," according to Zimmerman's blog.

Though it has yet to make a second appearance on MTV, it seems that the Metagame's popularity has yet to wane. During a recent interview with Gamasutra, Zimmerman enthused about the card-based Metagame's success at GDC 2011.

"I have made games for GDC for 12 years and I have never made a game that was so passionately embraced by players at the conference," he said. "All those years of making Gamelab [Zimmerman's studio] GDC games, we would fantasize about a game that people would play in the evenings -- at bars and at conference parties. The Metagame was that game."

An industry veteran with over 16 years of experience in the field of game design, Zimmerman explained that the Metagame's simplicity was integral to its success. "The fact that the game could be played quickly and easily -- that even a spectator could casually observe the game and understand it -- helped spread the game. People coming to a conference are busy, and a game needs to be immediately understandable."

"It appeals to the passionate game fan in everyone." Zimmerman said. "There's something about holding those little collectible cards in your hand and arguing for the games you love (or hate) that levels the playing field."

"I've seen the most sophisticated game journalists abandon flowery prose to make the most primal three-word Metagame arguments -- and conversely, I've seen the students put forth intensely theoretical dissertations during the game," he said. "Because the gameplay is essentially sociolinguistic, the way the Metagame is played is very much a direct reflection of each individual player."

The Metagame was built for game fans and players as opposed to the general audience. Zimmerman explained, "You need to have a broad familiarity with games to play. You can't play the Metagame if you don't know a lot of games and don't know how to discuss them. The game rewards game literacy on multiple levels: being familiar with games, being able to construct arguments with them and successfully deploying those arguments in a social context."

Following the success that the Metagame has experienced, Local No. 12 decided to take things to the next level by starting a fund to build and release a home version for the public. The project was placed on funding platform Kickstarter where it garnered a over 300 backers and around $17,280 in funds, a figure that comes close to being double of its original $10,000 goal.

In an interesting twist, a large percentage of the Metagame's supporters on Kickstarter comprise of educators. Though highly entertaining, the Metagame also serves an educational role of sorts.

Zimmerman explained that "it was a playful way of becoming familiar with games and with talking about game aesthetics. By playing the game, you become a sort of game scholar." A lecturer at the New York University, Zimmerman agreed that the Metagame exists on similar lines as the upcoming Games 101 course that is due to be taught at the university. Modeled after an Art History '101' course, Games 101 is a "class that grounds them in a common understanding of games -- their history, design, play, etc."


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