What are Megagames?

What are Megagames - written on a background of a wooden pyrography world map

This article was originally published at UniversityXP and is re-published in Ludogogy by permission of the author.

Most people have played games at some point in their lives. They can be table top games, card games, board games, playground games, video games, console games, or computer games. Most people have likely played hard games, easy games, social games, or abstract games. Mostly we’ve played fun games. But we’ve probably also played lousy games.

Some of us may have played small games, micro games, or pocket games. But, what about big games? How about Megagames? Megagames are one of the most interesting types of games around. They are part role-playing, part simulation, and part social game.

This article will review megagames. It’ll define what megagames are as well as the history of megagames. The structure of megagames will be explained as well as how role-playing and engagement occurs within the game. Player hierarchies are an interesting component of megagame structure and will be explored in greater depth. Megagames are administered by a certain group of people called “control.” Their engagement greatly impacts the player experience. Design aspects of megagames will be covered as well as how megagames can be used for games-based learning.

What is a Megagame?

A megagame is an interesting combination of different game elements encountered in other places. They involve role-playing, simulation, and social interactions.

Megagames combine all of this and on a large scale and introduce aspects of economics and politics into play. This is often represented in megagame components such as maps, charts, interlocking games, and overarching stories that join together to create a larger narrative. Players often take a large role in shaping the megagame experience through live action role-playing. As such the structure of the game is similar from play to play. But each new group of players bring a new narrative.

A megagame is a large scale game that contains different elements found in other games. Those elements include (but are not limited to) role-playing, simulations, social interaction, economics, and politics, which are combined into an overarching narrative. This combination takes place through other, smaller, interlocking games that occur concurrently within the megagame.

History of Megagames

If you haven’t heard of megagames before, then you might think that they’re a relatively new trend. But they aren’t and have been around since the 1970’s. Megagames trace their roots back to the British designer Jim Wallman and his connection to war games.

The first such megagame implementation was to expand wargaming to a larger scale. It was called “Memphis Manger” a Vietnam war game played in April of 1982.  The game accommodated about 30 players including designer Paddy Griffith.

The megagame idea began to grow from that point and future designers began to draw inspiration from other games. Not just game mechanics and structure; but rather theory; mathematical concepts; psychology; and sociology of game play.

However, the earliest megagames relied heavily on the conventions of war gaming and included miniatures, maps, and components representing units. Despite this, the development and structure of megagames has since expanded from that point into a more robust and developed structure.

Megagame Structure

Megagames adapt some concepts and structures from other games. Some of those include decision space of players as well as areas of agency. In megagames these become “private play areas.” Players use them to interact with other players and the game in order to achieve their own goals. In addition, there are public areas used to coordinate between these private play areas. This is where these seemingly disparate spaces of the megagame connect with one another.

For example a megagame could have a “private play area” called the high table. Players there are engaged in a hidden role negotiation game. In this game, the players must all come to a consensus as to who the “traitor” is. If players can select the traitor within three turns then all players (except the traitor) earn 1,000 money.  If the traitor escapes without being detected after 3 turns then the traitor earn 5,000 money and everyone else earns nothing. All players receive “hints” as to who the traitor is from players at another table called the “map room.”

This “map room” is another separate private play area that focuses on players engaged in an area control game. This area is called the “map room.”  In this game, players take turns rolling dice in order to determine if “armies” from one section of the map are able to defeat armies in neighboring sections. Armies are lost every turn. The only way to buy more armies is to purchase them… using the money earned by the players at the high table.

These games are connected through two resources: money and hints.  This represents just one small connection between these two private play areas in megagames. Structures such as these are seen in many different games. Megagames utilize some of these structures and use them as a framework. Through this, players can see how their actions affect outcomes in both their private play area as well as through the megagame at large.

Megagames also usually require a large amount of space. That space can be setup in a number of different ways. This includes gathering in a large central room with many tables to several smaller rooms where walls divide player groups.

In addition to space, megagames require a larger time investment than other gaming activities. Some board games can take 1-2 hours to play. Whereas megagames take between a few hours to a whole day to explain, play, and complete.

Role-playing in Megagames

The structure of megagames alone doesn’t define them. The players do. Every megagame will result in different outcomes based on player experiences, behaviors, actions, and motivations. As such, megagame players often role-play through their game play.

This is most often compared to LARPS – or live action role playing. Role-playing exists in megagames as a way for players to interact; communicate; and collaborate with one another in the game within its theme.

A specific distinction between megagame role-playing and LARPS is that megagames can be considered orthogames in their ability to create separate and unequal outcomes for teams and players. This means that there can be clear and decisive winners in the megagame. Whereas LARPS are more about the emergent narrative rather than the game.

This makes megagames more abstracted compared to LARPS. The theme in megagames is connected to their structure as well as through player roles. Players in megagames take on specific roles that can range from national governments, corporate entities, journalists, politicians, and military personnel. In these roles players act as their respective group through their interactions with others.

Player Structure & Engagement

Many games focus on some kind and degree of player engagement throughout play. Megagames are no different. Here players have to do more than compete with one another. Teammates must also communicate with one another; share information; broker deals, and make challenging decisions

The amount and type of player engagement is highly dependent on players and what they want to get out of the experience. This is also dependent on the scenario and the game being played.

Like its name, megagames require a large number of players. Few megagames require less than 25 participants. Some games require 25-80 players for a full experience. However, other megagames can have participants running into the hundreds.

Player interaction is an integral part of the megagame experience. This means that there needs to be enough action, agency, and options for games with these high player counts. That means that opportunities are necessary to keep players engaged throughout with meaningful contributions to game play.

Player Hierarchies

This player experience builds off the hierarchy of player interaction throughout the game. Some games will consist of several factions playing against each other. In turn each faction has a team of players with different roles, responsibilities, and decision making abilities.

This model of hierarchy makes it so that there are optimal zones of player interaction and agency at each step of the way. Creating a game so that one player is responsible for too many areas can be cumbersome, bothersome, and un-fun. By creating a hierarchy of responsibilities on a team’s roster, these activities can be subdivided and delegated. Players are able to exercise agency within the game that has a broad impact through this method. At the same time, they can make meaningful contributions to their team: fueling the social connections that players create through megagame play.

“Control” and the Megagame

A megagame naturally has many moving parts. Most board games can get away without the need for an impartial third party. More complicated games require more human input to support its structure.  Of course casino games have dealers, pit bosses, and floor supervisors. Even the original Kriegspiel had umpires. Of course professional sports have referees. Debates have moderators. As a result, megagames have “control.”

Control is a team of game masters and moderators that control the flow, structure, and engagement of play for players. They are responsible for managing operations of the game which includes (but is not always limited to) explaining rules, addressing situations, monitoring the game, and (even) making up some rules on the fly.

Some of the first controllers for megagames are their own designers. These individuals spend countless hours designing and printing maps; creating cards; making counters; and assembling them at the megagame site.

Having a “controller” is critical to megagame success. However, due to the structure of megagames, it is often necessary to break apart “control” into different sub-teams that manage different and specific areas within the game.

The need for this structure; impartial third party; and overall game master is crucial for overall success; engagement; and managing “last turn madness” that often accompanies megagame play.

Megagame Player Experience

Megagames are huge. They are designed in such a way that much of the player experience hinges on the social relationships and networks formed between players. Social networking happens in every megagame – it’s inevitable. New relationships are formed throughout play. No matter if that play is with, for, and against other players.

Megagames bring people together. They give players the unique ability to role-play in a setting bigger than a table top RPG. It provides them with the opportunity to solve some puzzles; cooperate with other teammates; and create an experience like no other.

The social relationships formed with and among players are often replicated by control members. Most of the time players are not aware of the schemes and storylines that are created behind the scenes of the control team and how their actions will affect game play overall.

However, the very social nature of megagames can be a source of challenge. Sometimes, language barriers; players abilities; and other accessibility concerns hider players’ abilities to participate fully within the game.

Despite this, players continue to return to play megagames for the player experience as this is not something that can be easily replicated elsewhere. Megagames tend to become a “destination” gaming event where people go to have a great experience.

That’s because megagames ride a level of player energy that incorporates aspects of table top games; war games; simulations; live action role-playing; and escape rooms in a unique and interesting combination. All of this is implemented by a unique team of controllers who play a significant role in shaping and crafting the game’s overall narrative.

Designing Megagames

Designing megagames is a challenging experience. The biggest challenge is creating something bespoke and customized for the experience the designer wants the players to have. In addition, designers don’t want to “overdesign” the experience by creating elaborate rules that would result in complex administration of the game for the control team.

Additionally, taking structures and mechanics from existing games could be a promising path for developing a new megagame. However, the process of integrating all of it under one title can be daunting and time consuming.

That means that creating megagames from the ground up can be easier and more straightforward than adapting existing games for a megagame format.  Existing games that were never intended to be megagames can difficult to transition into a modality in which player experience is prized over everything else.

Megagames for Games-Based Learning

Megagames are ripe for application of games-based learning. Megagames are a unique experience that encompass many different applications of simulations; role-playing; and social connection. All of which are great applications of experiential learning using games.

We may not think about megagames as applications of games-based learning. But the prominent use of student organizations like the Model United Nations or the Model European Union are ripe with examples and applications often found in other megagames. These include role-playing as different countries with different motivations and priorities as well as simulating different experiences, events, and incidents. These in turn require the competition and the cooperation between individuals and teams.

Additionally, military academics have used historical simulations and war games as a way to train and educate officers and leaders. The application of which requires the use of military tactics as well as politics, negotiation, and cooperation in order to influence the outcome.


This article reviewed megagames. It defined megagames as well as elaborated on their history and development. The structure of megagames were explained as well as how role-playing and engagement occurs within the game. Player hierarchies serve an interesting component of megagame structure and were covered in depth.  The “control” team of megagames were detailed in addition to how the expectations of megagames influence the player experience. Finally, design aspects of megagames were discussed in addition to how megagames are used for games-based learning.

This article was about megagames.  To learn more about gamification, check out the free course on Gamification Explained.

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References and further reading:

About The MegaGame Society. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from http://megagamesociety.com/

Active Learning Immersive Scenario Games in Teaching & Learning: Immersive Games. (2020, April 26). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://libguides.library.cofc.edu/c.php?g=929135

Becky, B. (2020, January 26). Game of Alchemy, and Megagames vs LARPs. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.beckybeckyblogs.com/game-design/alchemy-megagame-larp/

Brindle, J. (2017, November 7). How I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse Only To Wind Up In Federal Prison. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/qv3v8b/how-i-survived-a-zombie-apocalypse-only-to-wind-up-in-federal-prison

Dean, P. (2016, September 17). The explosive growth of the 300-person “megagame”. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2016/09/the-explosive-growth-of-the-300-person-megagame/

Eng, D. (2016, November 30). GAME ON! An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Games-Based Learning in an Undergraduate Liberal Arts Environment. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED576258

Eng, D. (2019, August 06). Meaningful Choices. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/8/6/meaningful-choices

Eng, D. (2019, December 10). Decision Space. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/12/10/decision-space

Eng, D. (2019, June 04). Formal Game Structures. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/6/04/formal-game-structures

Eng, D. (2019, September 17). Player Interaction. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/9/17/player-interaction

Eng, D. (2019, September 26). Game Theme. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/9/26/game-theme

Eng, D. (2020, August 20). What is Player Agency? Retrieved October 20, 2020, from http://www.universityxp.com/blog/2020/8/20/what-is-player-agency

Eng, D. (2020, February 13). Engagement Curves. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2020/2/13/engagement-curves

Eng, D. (2020, February 20). Game Components. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2020/2/20/game-components

Eng, D. (2020, January 16). How do I win? Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2020/1/16/how-do-i-win

Hart, R. (2020, September 01). What Are Megagames? Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://gamervw.com/2020/09/01/what-are-megagames/

McMillan, S. D. (n.d.). ALLIANCE MegaGame. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://mymegagame.weebly.com/teambuild.html

Mendelsohn, T. (2015, May 01). Welcome to the world where reality and board games combine. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/welcome-world-megagames-300-players-take-part-watch-skies-board-game-10213384.html

Shuck, D. (2017, February 4). The Intrigue Of Massive Scale MegaGames. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/aejnzg/the-intrigue-of-massive-scale-megagames

Wallman, J. (2016, December 31). IN THE BEGINNING – ORIGINS AND INFLUENCES. Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://megagamemaker.com/2017/01/19/in-the-beginning-origins-and-influences/

Wallman, J. (2016, November 02). Describing Typical Megagames (1). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://megagamemaker.com/2016/11/02/describing-typical-megagames-1/

Wallman, J. (2019, March 13). Megagame Design The Easy Way (2). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://megagamemaker.com/2019/03/13/megagame-design-the-easy-way-2/

What is a Megagame ? (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from http://readingmegagames.co.uk/what-is-a-megagame/

What is a Megagame? (2016). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from https://www.swmegagames.co.uk/what-is-a-megagame

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Educator / Designer / Researcher at Dave Eng Design
Dr. Dave Eng is an intellectual and creative educator, designer, and researcher who focuses on games, theory, and technology.

Dave studies applied games and teaches others how to use games for education and learning. Dave serves as a faculty member at New York University’s School of Professional Studies (https://www.sps.nyu.edu/professional-pathways/faculty/20495-dave-eng.html).

Dave hosts the podcast Experience Points (https://www.buzzsprout.com/855127) and consults at University XP (https://www.universityxp.com/community) on games-based learning. He also leads the Games-Based Learning Alliance: a community of individuals who use games for teaching, training, learning, and development.

Dave is a founder of Banditos Gaming (https://www.banditosgaming.com/): a registered 501(c)(3) social and educational non-profit organization that promotes play, community development, and learning through games. His interests include learning theory, technology, and games.

Find out more at www.davengdesign.com

Fun Fact: He has been seasick in every time zone.
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