Metagamic Realism

Table of Contents

This article considers the potential of digital games as a platform for criticism by examining metagames. Although there are several types of metagames, this paper mainly focuses on “games about games.”
In addition to a theory of realism, Hiroki Azuma’s book, The Birth of Gamic Realism (Game-teki realism no tanjo, 2007), offers a pioneering observation on metagames. Azuma bridges two genres by using the same method to analyze novels depicting the experience of game players and self-referential digital games.
Gérard Genette refers to transgression into the level of narrative as metalepsis, a concept that is also a significant characteristic of digital game narratives for two reasons. First, playing is fundamentally what Gregory Bateson calls a process of metacommunication, and gameplay always challenges and sometimes breaks rules and frames of the game. Second, players of digital games are necessarily doubled as actors and spectators, being inside and outside the game world at the same time.
As digital game culture entered a self-reflective phase in the 1990s, the use of metalepsis became more critical than ever as a method of producing metagames. Three types of metagames emerged as a result: games that enclose players in a fictional world, games that deprive players of their agency, and games that reintegrate what Alexander R. Galloway calls “nondiegetic machine acts” into a fictional world, that is, gamic actions performed by the machine and not contained in the game world, such as game overs and resets.
Nowadays, because metagames, as self-critical games, are either exceedingly monotonous or quite simple, they yield games that can barely be considered games. Abusive and minimalist games, for example, have blurred the boundaries of the game as a genre and force players to reconsider its definition. “Notgames” are the most radical and self-negating metagames. Through provision of a specific experience that can only be described as “something that is not a game,” notgames awaken the player afresh in this real world pervaded with “gamic realism.”