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Reviewed by:
  • Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames by Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux
  • Melvin G. Hill (bio)
Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux, Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017, 379 pp. $30.00 paper.

Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames is a comprehensive and highly ambitious text that argues how games extend beyond the television screen and how gamers are changing the way we play videogames. Through meticulous research, digital media scholars Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux uncover different gaming experiences and an unexpected development that occurs when players engage in videogames. The authors demonstrate that "alternate histories of play [are] defined not by code, commerce, and computation but by the diverse practices and material discontinuities that emerge between the human experience of playing videogames and their nonhuman operations" (p. 4). To this end, metagames, as Boluk and Lemieux compellingly argue, "transform videogames from a mass medium and cultural commodity into instruments, equipment, tools and toys for playing, competing, spectating, cheating, trading, breaking, making, and ultimately intervening in the sensory and political economies of those technologies responsible for the privatization of play" (p. 4). Their eclectic, diverse analysis includes video game spectatorship, hacking, modding, and competitive e-sports, among others. By focusing on specific various practices, material discontinuities, and human experiences of videogame engagement, Metagaming not only examines the history of play but reimagines the different ways we make metagames.

Boluk and Lemieux present dual persuasive arguments. First, they claim that metagames share an implicit relationship with the engagement of play and an explicit range of practice of play that impacts gaming culture. According to Boluk and Lemieux, "[Metagames] are not just games in, on, around, above, between, below, or through; [but] the metagame expands … historical attributes of human (and nonhuman play)" (p. 17). Also, they point out that metagaming is the truest form of play. Developing their first claim, they next argue the richness and depth of the various play possibilities located within metagaming. When considering their arguments, it is difficult to ignore any longer the value that metagaming brings to game culture. Most crucially, Boluk and Lemieux's arguments are compelling enough to consider metagaming as a serious topic of study.

Beyond the introduction, each chapter is undergirded with original software and appropriate images as examples to help shape the authors' argument. Although chapter 1, "About, Within, Around, Without: A Survey of Six Metagames," offers the least engagement of explorations of specific metagaming practices, it does provide a critical overview through six metagame vignettes of how players have transformed video-games into something beyond what developers and the industry had expected. Their analysis includes indie games, glitches located in modern gaming consoles, spectator-ship and popular international e-sports, and how online gaming communities engage in play without videogames. Chapter 2, "Stretched Skulls: Anamorphic Games and the Memento Mortem Mortis," introduces Boluk and Lemieux's central thesis: "there is no game without metagame" (p. 14). The authors explain "the pursuit of graphic realism through the development of increasingly powerful and complex modeling, rendering, and animation technologies" (p. 18). Additionally, the text explores the aesthetic and technical graphics that extend beyond graphic technologies.

In chapter 3, "Blind Spots: The Phantom Pain, The Helen Keller Simulator, and Disability in Games," Boluk and Lemieux use a critical lens to address questions of disability. Their case in point includes Hideo Kojima's "tactical espionage" game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015) and the minimal experimental game The Helen [End Page 418] Keller Simulator to carefully scrutinize disability in videogames and gaming practices. They point out the "little-known metagaming practice in which both blind, low vision, and sighted players navigate videogame spaces without the use of video and invent new ways of playing according to the alternate sensory economies" (p. 125). They maintain that metagames have the potential to become "lucid experiments that challenge contemporary models of videogame production to reveal new modes of play" (p. 126). To underscore Boluk and Lemieux's claims, several forthcoming videogames such as the virtual reality game Blind and the live-action cinema video game The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6520
Print ISSN
1063-1801
Pages
pp. 418-420
Launched on MUSE
2019-08-19
Open Access
No
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