If you happen to do a search on the tag meta here on the stew, you’ll find that I tend to dominate use of the tag. That could be because I’m the only one who uses it, but it is also because the metagame is a key component in a lot of my Game Mastering philosophy. Looking it up on Dictionary.com, meta is defined as:
meta- 1.a prefix appearing in loanwords from Greek, with the meanings “after,” “along with,” “beyond,” “among,” “behind,” and productive in English on the Greek model: metacarpus; metagenesis; metalinguistics.
When we refer to things that are meta, in almost all conventional usage, we are generally referring to things that are beyond or above the subject at hand but still related. The metadata in our MP3s and images reveals information about the MP3 or image that isn’t the music of visuals that are important. When we refer to the metagame surrounding our roleplaying games, it is usually in the sense of things the player knows that the PC wouldn’t.
And that brings up the question behind this Hot Button article. Do you, as the game master, allow meta knowledge in your games? There are some pros and cons to allowing metaknowledge and metagameplay. Here are just a few
Pros To Allowing Meta
- Can speed up gameplay.
- Can compensate for the lack of seeing it from the characters’ eyes. (i.e., The characters would pick up on things actually being in any real situation that the players wouldn’t by merely having the situation described to them.)
- Can create roleplaying moments when the players describe how or why their characters would logically know something they know.
- Can provide a different perspective on various game elements by letting the players make use of knowledge they would have. (i.e., A character might not know anything about forensics, but the player knows some very basic facts and can treat a crime scene differently.)
Cons To Allowing Meta
- Can defy a sense of realism about the game.
- Can provide unfair advantage.
- Can prevent roleplaying because players don’t feel the need to do things “in-game”.
- Can make specialized knowledge that a character is built around less valuable. (i.e., Why be a traveling scholar with skill in the cultures of various lands when the characters can know anything the players read about?)
I phrased everything in that brief list in terms of “can”, because it really comes down to how the metaknowledge and metagameplay occurs in the game, and that brings up the really important part of this article – your game. Do you allow meta knowledge to be a big factor of your game? Are there situations where it feels appropriate and situations where it doesn’t? Some part of the game always occurs in the meta-space surrounding the game, but how much of the game do you think should go on there?
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