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Play the Metagame

·2 mins

There are 2 ways to go through life: you can either play the game, or you can play the metagame. The game is 1-dimensional chess, and the metagame is N-dimensional chess.

You can apply this idea to just about everything in life. The easiest way to move from playing the game to the metagame is to think about every interaction in terms of incentives. Examining incentives is the easiest way to figure out what people want and how to turn win/lose or lose/lose transactions into win/win.

Playing the game is about following rules. Playing the metagame is about figuring out how you can use the rules to your advantage. Playing the game is when you rent out your time for income to survive, and the metagame is where you find ways to generate income while you sleep.

In software engineering, the game is writing software. The metagame is creating systems that write your software.

In marketing, it’s said that no publicity is bad publicity. The game is trying to market your product through traditional means (ads). The metagame is making people do the advertising for you, perhaps by acting quirky on Twitter to amass a following, or constructing scandals to generate attention for whatever it is you’re selling, or using so-called “growth hacks” like spamming your product on various websites.

Whatever you say on the Internet will probably offend someone somewhere, but the important thing is having your name in the news as much as possible (if that’s what you’re trying to do). You may not like it, but that’s how the world works.

People who go farthest in life are experts at the metagame. They’ve realized that most of the self-help platitudes are written to benefit the person writing them, not their target audience. In other words: everyone is selfish and acts according to their own best interests at all times, and once you understand that and act accordingly, you can start to use it to your advantage.