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Metagaming and What It Is to Me

My last post spurred an interesting discussion about the nature of metagaming.  Mostly, what it really is.  According to ye olde Wikipedia, metagaming is:

a broad term usually used to define any strategy, action or method used in a game which transcends a prescribed ruleset, uses external factors to affect the game, or goes beyond the supposed limits or environment set by the game. In other words, sometimes using out-of-game information, or resources, to affect one’s in-game decisions.

Now, in all fairness, this definitely fits with the definition that Tommi was operating on in the previous post.   The great wiki goes on to cite an example:

In role-playing games, a player is metagaming when they use knowledge that is not available to their character in order to change the way they play their character (usually to give them an advantage within the game), such as knowledge of the mathematical nature of character statistics, or the statistics of a creature that the player is familiar with but the character has never encountered. In general, it refers to any gaps between player knowledge and character knowledge which the player acts upon.

Tommi points out that metagaming isn’t always bad.  An example is presented that the player makes a decision on travel methods based on the potential for an encounter, though his character has no such knowledge of such danger.  In all fairness, Tommi is 100% correct, that isn’t a bad way to metagame.  After all, the character has no reason to suspect danger and they aren’t heading out looking for a fight.

Metagaming becomes a problem (and when I consider it true metagaming) when a player uses player knowledge to give the character and advantage.  For example, the NPC has a blind left eye.  You know this because you’ve encountered the NPC in a previous game and this information was shared.  Your current character doesn’t know this.  If you decide to flank from the NPC’s left because you have an advantage that way, then you have used player knowledge for advantage.

Granted, this happens less with home brew worlds than published worlds.  In published worlds, anyone can read up and know the prominent NPCs well before hand, while in home brew worlds, they’ll only know them if they’ve encountered them as players in the DM’s other games.

Regardless of how it happens, it is a problem.  In my opinion, the player is best off when they try to avoid metagaming at all.  It will probably happen from time to time.  We’re human and we make mistakes.  Sometimes, the situation calls for you do to something that could be considered metagaming from the outside, but it’s not really for whatever reason.  Suffice it to say that it can and will happen to you if you play long enough.

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August 7, 2008 - Posted by | RPG |

6 Comments »

  1. Hey hey… nice follow up! I recently wrote something along the same lines over at the The Core Mechanic: “My Character Should Know That…”. Its a bit of a rant, and you may consider this “breaking character” as opposed to metagaming, but I thought I would point it out – seems relevant to the conversation.

    Keep up the good work! Ciao.

    Comment by jonathan | August 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. There’s noreal definitions of anything in the real world. There are only definitions that work in certain context, for certain purpose. So, if you’d want to say that metagaming is bad, then you should define it accordingly. If you want to say that metagaming is a tool that can be used for good or evil, then define it accordingly.

    Comment by Tommi | August 8, 2008 | Reply

  3. @Jonathan: I agree with your post over there to some extent. It’s definitely pertenant to the conversation here.

    @Tommi: I’m not going to get into the whole “definitions” philosophy-type stuff. But you’re right about the definition being important. Truth be told, I never had a hard and fast definition. It was like they say about porn, I can’t define it but I know it when I see it 😉

    The great thing about a discussion is that anyone can learn anything. I’m just glad I never believed I knew it all 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 8, 2008 | Reply

  4. In it’s most broad form, metagaming is using any sort of outside knowledge to direct how your character acts in such a way as would otherwise be illogical if not impossible to do within the game setting. And we all do this, every single one of us. Unless you were born and raised in the middle ages, and haven’t come out of them yet, you (generic you there) do this. It’s done in very small, subtle ways using stuff we learned about in grade school. This does not constitute a problem, since we all need to do this to get any sort of suspension of disbelief and/or immersion into a game.

    The problem with metagaming is, as has already been stated, when a player begins to use outside knowledge to cause his character to act in an illogical, if more effective, way in the game setting. Example, making a low Spot check and then attempting to try again without anyone telling you that something might be elsewhere than underneath that one single rock you picked up. Or getting the Extra Turning feat for your cleric when you level because your DM let slip that your group will be going up against hordes of undead during the new few sessions while in game you just got done exposing a corrupt baron and ended that session relaxing in a noble’s hot tub.

    It’s doing these kinds of things that will eventually begin to wear on your DM until eventually you won’t be able to enter a tavern without him/her being on your case about every little thing. It’s a natural reaction we have: you’ve shown me I can’t trust you to handle out of game knowledge, so I’m keeping my eye on you 100% of the time for a while bucko.

    Of course, most players that heavily metagame also powergame, so its handy that at least they have the courtesy to give you two reasons to boot them from your game or group 😉

    Comment by Liambic | August 9, 2008 | Reply

  5. Gee Liambic, We don’t know ANYONE who does that, now do we? 😉

    Comment by Tom | August 9, 2008 | Reply

  6. Naw Tom, we don’t know a single person that ever does that >.>

    Comment by Liambic | August 9, 2008 | Reply


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