The Metagame

06 Dec 2018

One way of perceiving life is that it is a series of games. There are all kinds of games taking place simultaneously in life. The game of getting good grades in school. The game of keeping your body healthy. The game of progressing within your company. The game of social standing within your peer group. Each of these games has a general set of rules by which you play the game and skills that must be developed to be proficient in the game, along with rewards for obtaining degrees of competency within the game. It’s good to be moderately good at a large set of these games, and some are almost essential, like games related to health, but getting to the top levels at one or a few of these games is the usual way of gaining status, respect and wealth in this life. There are endless games in which you will gain a certain degree of respect by getting near the top of the hierarchy in that game. You could get to the top of the game in a certain academic field, in a particular trade or craft. You can even gain status by getting to the top of a hierarchy in literal, not metaphorical games. For example, you get quite a large degree of status and wealth if you climb so high in the hierarchy of competence in the literal game of basketball that you are drafted into the NBA.

But lying behind all these endless varieties of games is a more foundational game which I like to refer to as the metagame. “Meta” means “beyond,” so the metagame is the game that lies beyond all the other games. The metagame is the game of games. It’s the one that matters most. To win at the metagame is to win the whole set of games. In the game of Quidditch found in the Harry Potter universe, there is the game that most people are playing, and then there is the game that the seekers play. The seekers are those who are most agile and adept at flying. The seekers try to catch an elusive flying ball made of shiny gold. If they catch it, they don’t just win a point, they win the entire game. The seekers play the metagame. 

I’ve come to believe that successfully playing the metagame is more bound up with a sense of meaning and satisfaction than any of the other particular games of life.