Nov 10, 2011

Posted by in All The Galaxy's A Stage | 7 Comments

All The Galaxy’s A Stage: Metagaming

All The Galaxy’s A Stage is a regular column at Ask A Jedi with some lofty, creative goals.  On one hand, we will be discussing and exploring meaningful topics to support the role-play experience and community.  On the other hand, we also want to introduce the casual Role-Player to the writing-acting experience that can add so much more to an MMORPG like Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Share your perspectives and experience as we co-create magical story in that galaxy far, far away!

There’s a concept in role-play known as metagaming.  For those of you new to role-play, this is the use of knowledge by a character that they should not have access to.  Wikipedia defines metagaming as, “the use of out-of-game information or resources to affect one’s in-game decisions.”  When this approach is consciously taken by a player it is usually to gain some advantage in the game or RP scene.

Imagine the following scenario.  A character of yours is killed by another character.  You then create a new character who has detests the killer of your old character, and may even invest lots of time in creating a backstory to justify this hatred.  This would be metagaming.

Thinking back on it, when reading the stats on monsters in the D&D Monster Manual as an 8 year old I might have been setting myself up to metagame.  However, I was young, inexperienced, and the term had probably not even been coined at that point.  As I grew up I discovered that there was a great deal of enjoyment in being surprised and experiencing the moment.

There are many ways to metagame.  And I suspect that different players will have different ideas about what constitutes metagaming.  Some might argue that my example of the D&D Monster Manual above is not actually metagaming.  We could get into a debate about how my knowledge of a monster’s weakness from the manual would influence choices I made for my character in combat, and that we couldn’t justify our character knowing about every weakness of monsters thrown in front of us by the DM.  After all, how could I explain a character  suddenly bringing out a mirror when confronting a Medusa for the first time?  But then at 8 years of age I seem to recall thinking little of such matters, and really enjoying the artwork setting my imagination on fire.

If you spend time in community having lots of out of character (OOC) discussions, or if you follow forum RP and gain knowledge about RP events your character was not a part of, then it is possible that this information might somehow influence your RP.  In my earlier years I’d find myself not reading RPs stories my character was not involved in.  After all, what I don’t know OOC can’t influence me, right?  With experience I became much more adept at being very clear about what my character might know in any given situation, and making sure I was clear enough to defend any in character action.

Whatever the case, my advice to someone new to role-play is this; if you’re not certain that your character knows information hold off on using it.  In such situations then it’s often a good idea to talk through such uncertainty OOC with someone else.  Your fellow RPers will forgive an innocent mistake.  But repeat offenders that get exposed for trying to gain advantage through metagaming will certainly acquire an unsavoury reputation (to say the least).

  1. Even experienced RPers struggle with this issue. If your character has 2 dots in “Monster Lore” they would be expected to know some weaknesses of monsters. But how rare or outlandish must the monster or the weakness be, before it is beyond your knowledge on this arbitrary scale? And does it mean you know every common weakness ever, just a “reasonable amount” from reseach, or that you can identify weaknesses of any monster you have personally met. It is indeed a fine line, and OOC conversation, flow breaking as it is, is the only way to be sure, especially when playing with strangers.

    The advice to be cautious is good, but I’ll also add that metagaming can be a tool if used right: OOC I know Wampa the Deathspeaker is vulnerable to Chocolate-based attacks, but my character would not. I also know Wampa grows stronger when exposed to Icecream-based attacks, which my character also does not. The RP of my character could then be to suggest using Icecream attacks on Wampa, because I the player thinks some fun could come with inadvertently using the strengthening attack and that is metagaming used in line with what your character knows (or in this case doesn’t).

  2. Speaking of using metagaming as a tool, how little or much you use it, or even need to use it, also depends on the person running the game. This is especially true when it comes to puzzles. Perhaps she decided to borrow something from Greek mythology to which I happened to know the answer. This is not much of a surprise since virtually everyone from a western culture knows at least something about ancient Greece. It’s part of our cultural heritage. John the Jedi or Banzai the samurai probably wouldn’t have a clue.

    Of course, you could argue that with an experienced game master… etc., etc., etc.

    Also, how do I, the player, have this knowledge? I have it because read it in a book at some point or saw it in a movie. It’s not because I ever formally studied Greek history or mythology. Who’s to say the character didn’t chance across the knowledge in the same way? Does your character really need to have the Tactics skill to know that it’s a good idea to take cover during a firefight?

    Come to that, I think there’s also a case to be made that min-maxing is a form of metagaming.

  3. Lady Republic says:

    Metagaming is definitely a challenging aspect of RPing. I’m usually less bothered by people who are either new and making an honest effort, or where they’re doing some level of metagaming with respect to the world rather than other people’s player characters.

    Sadly, in both D&D as well as online gaming, you sometimes run into people who metagame so much, they even push it on your character. My worst tabletop experience was a GM who not only ran all the NPCs, but would actually tell us what our characters said and did in situations. It made me wonder why he needed players there at all?

    I’m often surprised by how much metagaming sneaks in to MMOs though RP add ons – the biggest one I run across on a regular basis is when a player’s description tells you how you respond to them. (Looking at MrAwesome, you suddenly feel terrified and he turns to sneer at you.) Err – how does MrAwesome know what my character’s reaction is, you know?

    So I guess in sum, my threshold is – reasonably willing to look over world-based metagaming, but I really get my feathers ruffled when someone metagames at/with my character.

    • I’m enough of an old and bitter man to have actually done a fair share of RP with strangers over MUSH. And the “tell others how they react” was the biggest faux pas you could do there. For good reason, I share your dislike for this particular bad form.

      Its actually a fun challenge to have to RP over emote is a non-visual medium: you have to include environment, gestures and of course what you say, in a manner that suggests emotional states and deeper thoughts (without turning everyone into a mindreader), but you cannot actually tell how anyone is reacting. Once you do that, then start doing it in a way that drives the action forward so it goes beyond a campfire chat…harder than you think, and you must constantly beware the Metagame ghost.

      • In some ways roleplaying in a MUSH is easier than an graphical MMO. You’ve got more creative license and fewer lines to color between. It’s easier to sell minutiae and nuance or huge panoramas and spectacles when the scale of things is at the tip of your fingers. Not spelled out explicitly in graphics that you feel a bit compelled to work with.

        Most of what I’ve learned about roleplaying online came from MMOs. Now, my old tabletop groups were also pretty hardcore and metagaming (aka cheating) was frowned on. There’s a GM’s screen set up to keep folks from peeking at the secrets of the universe for a reason! Even when dealing with more basic, wargamey, RPGs like D&D a good DM would expend some effort to obfuscate as he knows most of his players have read the manuals and know things their characters shouldn’t. The most basic approach is “reskinning” creatures so they look completely different, and their powers are jumbled around from, the default beasties in the Monster Manuals or bestiaries.

        I really haven’t had much trouble with MMO roleplayers and metagaming. It could be because I focus on PvE style RP with NPCs generally being the opposition. Players are in it for the story and not necessarily to “win.” For them a surprise is a plot twist not an invitation to get upset with or act out against rival player-characters.

        There’s always been a tension between PvP ethos and RP ethos when these two groups coexist. PvP ethos says the fun is in the competition and use every tool you have to win. RP ethos says the fun is in the story not in always, necessarily, being the most effective you can be.

        In a pure PvP environment the idea of metagaming is simply good tactics and second nature. Use all the tools can, and all the information you can gather, to go after your target. Because you better believe he’s coming after you with his homework done whether it’s OOC or IC.

        In a pure RP environment the idea of metagaming is synonymous with cheating and immaturity. We differentiate between OOC knowledge, things a player knows, and IC knowledge, things a player knows. We consider good practice to be focusing on the IC and the good of the story over using OOC knowledge to try and “win” interactions.

        When you cross the particle streams you tend to get confusion and disagreement. Very often RP-PvP guild leaders try and work out their own middle ground. This generally tends towards an acceptance, and assertion, of competitive human nature – the PvP perspective, that if a player knows something he won’t be able to resist the temptation to use it to his character’s advantage. Players shouldn’t share any OOC details with each other, ever.

        This can cause problems for traditional RPers because sharing OOC information, especially in MMOs where there is no DM/GM/Storyteller to hold everyone’s secrets and weave them into a combined story, is an important tool for players to build ideas for stories for each other.

        • “Most of what I’ve learned about roleplaying online came from MMOs.” Should read: “Most of what I’ve learned about roleplaying online came from MUSHes (AmberMUSH, OtherSpace, IntoTheBlack, Crescent City, etc..).

          • “We differentiate between OOC knowledge, things a player knows, and IC knowledge, things a player knows” Should be “IC knowledge, things a character knows.”

            Man, I need coffee.

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