My previous post on metagaming started a mini-discussion. Robert Conley gave his own definition of metagaming in the comments, and expanded on it on his own blog. Dennis Laffey clarified that he didn’t entirely disagree with the original definition of metagaming in the video, but focused more on the natural conclusions you have to draw if you are using a definition like that.
And I totally get that. I didn’t give my own definition of metagaming, either, or really address what I thought of that definition. But now is the time for me to talk directly about how I define metagaming. Or rather, to say I haven’t quite decided how to define it, because I’m not entirely sure it’s a useful concept.
Here’s my line of thought on this: When we make up a new word with the “meta-” prefix, it’s to talk about an abstract level one step above, beyond, or removed from a more direct concept. An example directly relevant to RPGs is metaplot, the story that some RPG products create that overrides the plot ideas individual GMs and/or players create at the table.
So what would “metagaming” be? It’s the abstract level above the level of game rules or game play. Behaviors that override the game rules themselves. Both of the metagaming definitions being discussed incorporate some sense of that. But I’m thinking that roleplaying itself overrides system-level concerns. It’s the real metagame level. What’s usually being discussed in debates about metagaming is something interfering with the roleplaying aspect, because the player is either using knowledge that the group considers outside the character’s reach or socially manipulating the GM or group to get their own way.
The solutions usually proposed to fix the metagame problem are either system level (XP penalties for acting out-of-character, for example) or social level (having a serious talk with a player.) You can, as I suggested previously, see this itself as metagaming… or meta-metagaming… or maybe metaroleplaying. It’s really more like a back-and-forth between game system and player control, with one overriding the other for a while until the balance seems tipped too far in one direction. I’m not sure you can actually pin down what counts as metagaming, or what counts as bad metagaming, even for an individual group. It’s something that’s constantly in flux.
I may have more to say on this after Thanksgiving, as I mull it over.
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