The Metadata Game

Well-documented data requires high quality input from people with diverse expertise and experience. Researchers identify questions and plan projects to answer them, they collect data and create processing systems that need documentation. Publishers and repositories add metadata that describes connections and distribution options. Curators, metadata librarians, and users can all add important insights as the data move into repositories and get reused in sometime unexpected ways.

The Metadata Game was designed as an ice-breaker in situations where diverse teams are coming together to understand metadata and the challenges that might be encountered during the process of creating complete metadata repositories. The game provides a setting for sharing experiences and examples from the real world and for working together as a team to achieve the goal of a complete metadata repository. It also introduces the important role of metrics and the repository evaluation process.

The game described here is available as an introductory game based on the FAIR Principles which are generic and generally high level. Please let us know how you liked it or how it can be improved and tweet pictures of finished boards to #metadatagame. The game can be adopted for other recommendations that are relevant to particular communities, projects, or project phases. It can also be used as part of team-building or metadata training aimed at more specific needs. Experienced metadata experts that can connect the game to real-world situations are very helpful in those situations. Please let me know if you are interested in exploring those possibilities.

Game Elements

The Metadata Game Board includes four elements.

Selection Rules

Players select metadata elements by moving around the board using one of three selection rules depending on the round and the current configuration of the board. It is important to understand that current moves affect future possibilities. Planning ahead can improve the team’s score.

Round 1 – Select adjacent squares (details).

Subsequent rounds – Jump adjacent filled squares (details).

Can’t jump? – If there is no legal jump (a good thing) then select square in same quadrant where you can jump next round (details).


The last player is responsible for recording repository progress after each complete round by combining three repository metrics:

Complete Records have all four fields filled.

Collaborations have four fields filled with one element of each color.

Empty Fields are fields with no content in records that have been started.

Teams select values for each metric at the beginning of the game and records these values in the game metadata. The metrics have default values: Complete Records: 4, Collaborations: 2, Missing Fields: -1 (examples).

Using the defaults makes it possible to compare results across many games but teams can also use different metric values to test how they effect selection choices and overall metrics.

Repository Rules

Repository rules represent the many obstacles that are inevitably encountered on the road to complete metadata repositories. There are three rules (Adjacent Fields, Next Available, and Updates) and each has a value of yes or no. Record these values in the game metadata before the game starts.

Repository Rules add challenges to creating a complete metadata repository and teams can select rules to vary the difficulty of the game. The Simple rules are good for introductory games that focus on learning the selection process and rules. The Default values are more challenging and should be used after the selection process is understood. Of course teams can change rules at any point during the game, for example, playing simple rules for the first several rounds and then default rules for the rest of the game. These changes should be noted with annotations in the game metadata.

Rule / Game Introductory Default
Adjacent Fields Yes No
Next Available No Yes
Updates Yes Yes

Ending the Game

It is possible to have a complete repository after ten rounds (i.e. 40 selections) and that is the end of a wonderful game. In some cases, positions can be reached where some player does not have a legal move (depending on repository rules). In that case, the game ends before ten rounds are complete (like funding in the real world!). Close collaboration and team planning are required to avoid this. The final metric can include all records (i.e. all empty fields), or just records with fields (better final metric) at the discretion of the team. When you are done, please remember to tweet a picture of the team and the final board with the #metadatagame hashtag,

Materials and License

The introductory version of The Metadata Game described here is based on the FAIR principles and available with the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. The package includes the FAIR Game Board, a one-page instruction sheet (two sides), and a guide to the game. Please site this version as: Ted Habermann. (2019, September 2). The Metadata Game (Version 1.0). Zenodo.

In order to play the game you will need one board and one instruction sheet for each team of four, as well as erasable colored pencils in different colors for each team member. I laminate the boards so they can be reused and use markers. If there are teams with less than four players, single team members can play multiple colors to bring the total to four, i.e. with three players one would play two colors.

The default values for metrics and rules were selected as a reasonable starting point. Organizations and teams can change the metadata game by changing rule and metric choices. Are there rules you would like to change? How will changes affect opportunities, decisions, and metrics?

The Metadata Game was developed by Erin Robinson and Ted Habermann. Please let us know how you liked it or how it can be improved and tweet pictures of finished boards to #metadatagame. Also let us know if you think The Metadata Game could help your organization make better metadata.