There’s a point I try very hard to get across to students whenever I teach the homeric epics Iliad and Odyssey. I tend to phrase it as a point about the nature of the Muses, but it actually extends much deeper into the fabric of the epics than would appear from the relatively few times the Muses actually receive mention from the bards who composed the original, living versions of these works we now know in book form.
The point is that while no one could sensibly deny the distinct possibility that the bards felt that some supernatural force gave them the ability to sing their epic songs, what a bard really means when he sings “Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles” is “Don’t try this is at home.” Or, as the Mythbusters put it: “We’re what you call ‘professionals’.”
In this post-series I’m hoping, with your help, to open up a fun new direction in the comparison of epic to games by pointing out that the equivalent of the invocation to the Muses in many games and in particular in the style of game called MOBA (Muliplayer Online Battle Arena–League of Legends is the most popular example), is the invocation of what gamers usually call “the meta”–the discourse in community-forums about current best practices in the game in relation to the game’s mechanics.
At the same time, I want to continue to explore different ways for scholarly discourse about games to take shape. So this post serves as a kind of invitation, to analyze with me the way gamers, with the help of designers, have begun to develop a professional culture in MOBAs.
This professional culture exists both with respect to the “real” pros, who actually do make money playing League of Legends, and with respect to the millions of talented players who participate in epic performances of MOBAs every day all over the world. They’re connected to their audiences, mostly of fellow players but also more and more of fans who watch experts’ streams, with the same interactive capacity that marked the formation of the homeric epics–hopefully I’ve convinced you of that by now.
The new frontier of MOBA meta, though, may have something interesting to offer to the discussion of games’ role in our culture and community, above all because players of MOBAs have some of the strongest communities on the ‘net, if the number of participants can be used as a measure. At any rate, let me ask you, a reader (perforce!) of humanist game criticism, what you know about MOBA meta like the following passage from a strategy guide for a League of Legends champion called Blitzcrank, and what comparison you would make to practices in other cultural fields.
- Staying behind minions is a great way to protect yourself against Blitzcrank’s Rocket Grab during the laning phase.
- It is possible to dodge a Rocket Grab by moving perpendicular to the extended arm as it launches, causing it to miss you.
- Be wary of Blitzcrank’s location when he is in the bushes. He will more than likely try to initiate with Rocket Grab.
- Grabbing a ward for vision in the brush counters this tactic well.
- When fighting a support Blitzcrank, his damage will be much lower than his allied AD carry. Don’t be afraid to force a fight if he has used Rocket Grab and/or Power Fist recently.
To preview my next post, this passage, and thousands more like it, get enacted in performance whenever a player uses expert skill, gained both in play and in study of such passages, to adapt his or her performance to the occasion. The invocation to the meta, like the invocation to the Muses, only gives us the tip of the iceberg of expertise–I’m hoping to describe as much of the iceberg as I can.