On the way into work today, I was pondering the difference between the Magic metagame and internet message boards.  At first, you might think like I did – what connection is there even between the two that they could be comparable?  And why is my brain considering the two of them right now? (In your case, it’s because you’re reading my blog, but in my case, I was curious about my apparent mental leap.)  By the end of the car ride, I had uncovered my own intuition: on internet discussions, one person often believes they have “won” some argument or thread or what have you, but everyone else is lessened due to their inflamatory / fallacious / content-light contributions.  But in a metagame like the one built around tournament Magic, when one player performs their best and wins an event, everyone is enriched because they get to see and learn from their skill and choices.

I think this difference in community success vs. individual success comes in the structure of the activities.  Since Magic and games of its ilk have one primary goal in something like a tournament setting – winning – all contribution toward that goal that’s public adds to the knowledge and awareness of all players involved.  This can be further evidenced by looking at other sub-communities that don’t value winning above everything, and seeing that they disparage or ignore some of the contribution of the competitive sub-community.  So, closer alignment to one goal axis means more ancillary benefits to a community from individual performance.

On the other hand, communication online is about one of the least-structured activities you can imagine.  But still, some individuals treat it as a game, and “play” against their fellow online denizens by arguing and attempting to “win.”  In this case, despite there being many community members who do not treat it as a game, they are drawn into a metagame-style activity by the actions of the individuals who make it into a game.  Since not everyone thinks they are playing a game, there’s no way they could all agree on the rules, much less the goals, and so there’s no contribution toward a single goal (or there often isn’t).  Lots of people who don’t want their communication activity to be a game become forced to interact with someone who *is* playing a game (of their own design, essentially) and that contributes to the generally negative community effect.