What do I mean when I talk about a video game meta? The concept of meta gaming has been around for years. It is most often heard used derisively among tabletop role players. However, a form of meta gaming is an important part of online PvP gaming.
The Video Game Meta — Acceptable Meta-Gaming
When I say meta gaming what do I mean? Meta gaming is use of information outside of a given gaming framework, that allows better performance within the framework. An example in a table-top game would be reading ahead in a published adventure and using that information to effect character decisions. In most gaming contexts meta gaming is seen as a form of cheating.
However, in online PvP gaming, meta gaming is useful. When I refer to a games meta, I am talking about unwritten rules and methods, often player created, on how to play the game. This meta often develops from hours of multiplayer action that seem to crystallize the player expectations for a specific game.
Different styles of games require different metas. To illustrate this I would like to examine a few of the PvP game types and an example game of that type.
MOBA Meta Example — SMITE
Smite, although played from a first person perspective, is at its heart a MOBA style game. The traditional form of smite is the standard MOBA map consisting of three lanes with “jungle” space in between.
Each of the lanes going out from your base has defensive objectives. First comes your phoenixes, the green bird shapes. Then comes two of your towers, the green pawn looking shapes. Then comes two of your opponents towers, the orange pawns. Your opponents phoenix is next, the orange small bird. Finally, comes your opponents base guarded by their titan, the big orange bird shape. The idea of a SMITE match is to fight from your base, through the enemy defenses, and destroy the opposing titan.
To accomplish this goal SMITE gives its players numerous god characters to choose from. All the SMITE characters are video game representations of different religions and mythologies. These god characters are divided into types based on their playable abilities. You choose the god you want to fight with and use that avatar to work with your team, consisting of four other players, in defeating the opposing team and its titan.
Now comes some of SMITE’s meta. The meta for traditional SMITE conquest is two characters down the left lane, one down the middle lane, one down the right lane, and one character “jungling” the npc mobs appearing in the areas between the lanes. Without going into too much detail, in the traditional conquest meta each of these roles is filled by specific types of characters. Knowing in advance the meta expectations helps new players to fit in the game better.
Online CCG Meta Example — MtG: Arena
In a CCG like Magic the Gathering, players are at liberty to create any deck of cards possible using current rules and cards they own. In the most common MtG format called standard only a certain subset of cards, consisting of the most recent sets released, is allowed for play. After a new set is released, an often short time ensues where multiple games are played and some cards and play styles come to the forefront. This time right after a new set release creates the meta for MtG standard format until the next set releases and modifies the card pool.
For online play in MtG: Arena, the normal standard meta is changed by the format of the online game. In tabletop MtG most games are best 2 out of 3 games. These games can take quite a bit of time and while available on MtG arena, the more common play consists of best of one games. The desire for quick online play has given the Arena meta a different flavor than tabletop MtG.
The current Arena meta is centered around cards that allow the same action to be taken multiple times until that action defeats your opponent. Whether that action is to play the same creature card repeatedly, or to rid your opponent of their library so they have to draw and lose the game when they have no cards left to draw. These decks are often what are called mid game decks and look to develop large resource pools early and then use their mechanics to defeat the opponent. Even more so than SMITE, MtG: Arena’s meta is very complicated. However, also like SMITE, knowing Arena’s particular meta can make playing the game go much smoother.
RTS Meta Example — Starcraft 2
In Starcraft 2 the meta develops around efficiency. The more efficiently you can produce the items needed for victory, the better you will do in SC2 PvP. This means that SC2 meta is a lot about the best build orders for units and structures, as well as the most efficient use of those units and structures.
Some of the terms you will hear in SC2 meta conversations would be things like turtling, aggressive expansion, scouting, and above all micro play. These ideas constitute the efficient use of units and buildings and skill in these areas can determine quality of play. With three different races available in game and a radically different play style for each, the SC2 meta is another complex, but interesting creature.
The Video Game Meta — Opportunity for Noobs
For new players, or noobs, to the PvP genre, a video games meta can be very useful. If you research the meta ahead of time and start integrating that meta into your training and practice, a lot of the triggers for gaming toxicity due to newcomer status can be avoided. Not all by any stretch of the imagination, but knowledge of a games meta can make life easier on the new player, as well as making the game itself more fun. When you know what you are expected to do, and do it, everything can be more enjoyable!
May All Your Matches Be Legendary