In a little over a week at the GDC, The Metagame will launch – a massively multiplayer social game where players argue and debate about games.

The Metagame at GDC is a creation of Local No.12, a game design collective that includes Mike Edwards, Colleen Macklin, John Sharp, and myself. Our last conference game was BackChatter, a Twitter-based game that ran at several conferences before we open-sourced it at GDC last year.

However, The Metagame has a strange and convoluted history. It originally began as a project for Wired Magazine – the 2006 “games issue” that Will Wright guest edited several years ago. I was asked to contribute something, and my suggestion was to create a playable game for the magazine – a fold-out boardgame about videogames. I brought Frank Lantz into the project, and the two of us created The Metagame as a paper boardgame experience. Somewhat inspired by the Glass Bead Game from Herman Hesse’s Magister Ludi, players navigated a visual web of videogames, strategically modifying modular statements like “Asteroids is more visually beautiful than Gran Turismo” to make them true.  After we completed the game, the magazine unfortunately decided to drop it from the issue (even though they did include a visual timeline that closely resembled a boardgame).

We loved our game, and convinced GDC to let us run a session the following year where two teams of players competed head to head to argue and debate game aesthetics. Programmer and designer Veronique Brossier created a Flash tool for the event, and here’s a great writeup about the session that Scott John Segal did for Joystiq.  In case you’re curious, the winning team was the unlikely menage-a-tois of Jonathan Blow, Warren Spector, and Tracy Fullerton, beating out Jesper Juul, Clint Hocking, and Marc LeBlanc.

Game Journalist Stephen Totillo attended the GDC session and liked it so much that he put it on MTV. That fall he helped arrange a video gameshow version of the Metagame experience. Frank and I hosted the shoot at the offices of my company Gamelab, and contestants included game journalists N’Gai Croal and Heather Chaplin. The entire event is still viewable at

Which brings us to the present. Trying to come up with a social game for GDC 2011, Local No. 12 decided to recycle the core gameplay of the Metagame and turn it into a massively multiplayer card game. The gameplay is still about comparing two games with a comparison statement (“Which game is deeper,” “Which game tells a better story,” etc.) – but this time you do so with a personal collection of cards that can grow and change over time. We tested it at a few gatherings, including a large-scale playtest at Indiecade, and we’re looking forward to seeing how the game plays at GDC.

Boardgame to conference session to game show to CCG: The Metagame is a great example of how the logic of game rules can be ported and transported from context to context, changing each time, but somehow also remaining the same. Beyond the name of a game (“The Metagame”) and the identity that accrues around its surface materials, what is it that lets us say these clearly disparate games are all versions of the same thing – if indeed they are? Is it something about the rules and logic? The communities of players? A history within reported media? Or perhaps it is something more ineffable.