Do you know you know, you know? Meta-ness in games

TheAngryGM wrote an article on Metagaming and their dislike of people using it to justify stupid decisions being made in character. For those that don’t know, metagaming in terms of roleplaying games can be seen here at Wikipedia, but can be quite dry. An easy way to describe it is essentially summed up in the zombie movie genre. In every zombie movie, people act like they have no clue what a zombie is or how it works, even though zombie movies have been around for years. People get bitten and try to hide it, they go up and ask the shambling person if they’re alright, and so forth. Great for the early movies, but as Ctrl+Alt+Del showed, zombies are in our pop-culture, we know what they are now.

So, when you look at metagaming with the arguments that TheAngryGM makes about characters having battle training, and even just picking up random scraps of pop culture of the times. So, understanding how to make the most advantageous combat move for the moment makes sense, unless you’re in a system where your character wouldn’t have that experience. IE, playing a CP2020 game and you’re playing a Corp or News or maybe even a Rocker.

However, I would like to take a step away from the combat side of things and talk about metagaming in general. I once saw someone put up comment about how it was metagaming to assume there was a trigger to get a bridge to appear over a large chasm in the dungeon ‘because the GM wouldn’t want to have us be stuck’. Maybe the GM wants you to scale the wall, cross on the bottom and climb up? Maybe they want you to do some thinking and come up with a solution to the problem yourself?

That is where I am really annoyed by metagaming, assuming there has to be some singular specific way to deal with a problem. The reason being is that this is roleplaying. If you are trying to find the “best solution” to an interaction, then you’re not really roleplaying a character, because you’re not letting it flow from the character. You know the goal and rather than making decisions based on what your character would do, you’re focused on getting that specific goal. You may make decisions your character wouldn’t, like being tactful when your character might be racist or sexist or whatever because that is their tenancies. An example of a metagamed decision was seen in DM of the Rings but there are so many other examples that can be found. The logic might be sound, but the reasoning was done using game rules and beliefs, following in a similar approach as the Random Encounter formula in Order of the Stick

Making decision based on the ‘best choice’ assumes unlimited knowledge in the area in question. If I’m playing a wizard born and raised in the city, I shouldn’t know a lot about how to survive in the middle of the desert just because as a player I know how to do it. Can they build gunpowder just because they know the reactions like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. That’s what Knowledge skills are for, or at the very least some attribute checks to see if my character was smart enough to remember it. You might know trolls are damaged more by fire because of folk stories, much like the quote from the original Blade movie on vampire weaknesses:

Some of the old wives’ tales are true — they’re severely allergic to silver, various types of wood. Feed them garlic and they’ll go into anaphylactic shock — and of course there’s always sunlight, ultra-violet rays.

However, does your character know something because you do? In the National Treasure movies, you can see all sorts of historical references that were made because the characters were into that. With the amount of published material in a game world, most players will be able to find that piece of history by consulting a book or even a wiki in these days, but in the game world, you would need a sage, a really good skill check or something similar to get that close. That is the metagaming that bothers me because it has people making incomplete characters. It is the video game issue that occurred in games like V:tM Bloodlines, where you could get through a lot of the game using stealth or manipulation skills but at the very end, it was all combat so unless you made a combat monster, you were toast.

This is why I believe, as GMs and players, we need to be furthering the individual, by having realistic characters not just one dimensional ‘action heroes’ or one trick ponies like the Pornomancer from Shadowrun who could throw 20 or more dice on a Negotiation or Con and could have people just walk aside if asked because they couldn’t beat that in contested rolling.

In a tabletop game, true RP interactions among players or players and NPCs can sometimes be few and far between. You’ll have meets with the regent, you’ll have discussions with the shopkeeper, but how often do people discuss their backstories, their wants and needs? I was replaying Chrono Trigger for the SNES, and it hit me that they have a lot more character development options than I had put in some of my games. For example, they had the campfire scene with the party discussing the events of the past and the future and I was reminded of fantasy novels where the party would gather around and someone would tell their backstory. These are the moments that a lot of games, both tabletop and video, will bypass or gloss over in an effort to get some more combats or challenges in instead of another scene where there’s little chance of excitement and/or failure.

I do agree excitement is one of the main reasons that these games are played, and there are only so many hours we can play them. Spending an hour talking to someone over things that aren’t directly relevant to the story is an hour we can’t use to fight the big bad. But do we want to have character development moments? Do we want to have our characters grow and that growth be able to be seen by the other NPCs. I can have beliefs change because of in game experiences, but what does that say if only my character’s inner monologue changes and no other player hears it? Perhaps we should bring back experience rewards for Blue booking? For those who don’t know, that is where one or a few of the players describing activities of their characters in written form, outside of the role-playing session, creating a sort of ongoing character history and resolving actions that don’t involve the rest of the group.

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