The way competitive video games are supposed to work is simple: the person who is better at achieving the game’s stated objective is the winner. This means the person with the better strategy, or the better reflexes, or the better visual acuity will be the victor, absent any confounding factors of luck.

But with many games, there’s a largely unseen factor in determining the winner, one that’s not directly related to the game’s stated rules and objective. This game behind the game — the metagame — is where a lot of the emergent fun can be found in today’s competitive titles, and designers would do well to keep it in mind when creating competitive systems.

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