Name That Game

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The Metagame is a card game about videogames. Which game impacted the industry more – Space Invaders or Farmville? Which game is more poetic – Tetris or Street Fighter II? Playing the Metagame requires you to know about videogames, make comparative judgments about them, and argue your points convincingly. The co-creator of this retro-sport is game designer Eric Zimmerman late of GameLab, along with Local No. 12 (Mike Edwards, Colleen Macklin, and John Sharp). I asked him to discuss the reasons for going from digits to cards and what the future will hold.

A card game about video games! Seems wonderfully counter-intuitive. What was the genesis?The Metagame actually has a long and convoluted history. It began as a board game I created with game designer Frank Lantz for a Wired issue on videogames that was guest edited by Will Wright (designer of Sim City and The Sims) but was cut from the magazine before publication. Frank and I turned it into a game show event where players debated videogames in front of an audience at the Game Developers Conference. A version of this game show appeared as a special on on I blogged in more detail about the history of the Metagame at my own site.

I created this most recent card game version of The Metagame with Local No. 12, an experimental game collective. Of all of the forms that the Metagame has taken, I think the use of collectable cards works best. Part of the appeal of the game is seeing your favorite videogame titles as sleek little cards. The game is extremely portable and easy to play – and it’s fun!

Yours is the third card game – others are about design trivia – I’ve heard about in the last few months. Is this a new trend to de-digitize?Rather than a trend to de-digitize, I would say instead that our culture is re-ludicizing – it is turning to play as a dominant form of leisure culture. We are living in a world of systems and information, and games are THE cultural form of systems. They have a very special relationship to the digital world in which we live everyday. I think increasingly we are going to see forms of leisure that resemble games and play begin to find ways into all aspects of our life. The recent buzz around “gamification” is just a very literal way of expressing this idea.

As far as card games in particular, for me cards are the most computer-like of the classic game forms. A deck of cards is like a stack of bits – that can be shuffled and reshuffled, sorted and distributed, or combined like words in a sentence to make meaning (think Poker hands). Cards let us take information and embody it in a personal way, as we hold them close or share them with friends. Card games are a great bridge between an ancient ludic form and information technology.

Why are you taking this to Kickstarter? And how will that kind of investment work?We’re putting the game on Kickstarter to raise funds for a larger print run that will let us distribute cards. At the Game Developers Conference where the project premiered, we had more than 2,500 players, each of whom were collecting five or ten cards. So many players asked us for a full deck – for their own use, to give to friends, or to play with their students – that we decided to go to Kickstarter. The funds will be used to print the cards, and all of our backers will receive decks of cards (and other fun rewards, if you pledge higher amounts). The campaign is going well, but we do need more backers to reach our goal – I hope your readers will check it out.