Metagaming and You

There are many ways of cheating in so many games. In video games, you can enter cheat codes to make the game easier, or if you’re savvier with programming, you could hack into the games files and make any alterations you want. In Table-Top Role-Playing Games, you can cheat by fudging your dice rolls, or improperly recording numbers on your character sheet to your benefit. In childhood games like Tag, there are plenty of arguments about who got who. By far, the most infuriating and hard to control form of cheating in RPG games, and especially Live Action Role-Playing games, is Metagaming.

So what is Metagaming? For most, it’s taking information you know about the game as the player, but your character couldn’t know, and using it as your character in the game to your advantage.  It is considered a form of cheating, and is a social faux pas in many RPG social circles.

For Example, Bob, who plays Bobbert the Horrid, is chatting at the bar with his LARPing buddy, Jack, who plays Jackininny, Viscount of Bards. Jack mentions to Bob after a few drinks that he managed to steal a valuable amulet from a local baron. They did not agree to share this information In-Game (or IG, as I’ll refer to it from now on), but talked about it Out-Of-Game (or OOG). Later, at the next LARP event they are attending together, Bob, as Bobbert, attacks Jackininny and steals the amulet from him. Bob used OOG information his character did not possess and used it to his character’s advantage, even though there was no way Bobbert the Horrible could have ever known that information. Bob has cheated.

Being on the bad end of this form of cheating is never any fun, especially when proving it happened is very difficult. I remember my early days at the LARP I go to now and witnessing this situation first hand. One player had a character that was very powerful, and had a decent-sized group that surrounded him. He had a reputation for taking whatever he wanted, and killing who ever he wanted (IG of course).  The problem was, whenever something bad happened to him OOG that involved another player, he would take it out on them IG. With his character’s reputation of being the killer he was, claiming any sort of metagaming was hard to prove. When this character was finally defeated (due to the rest of the player population banding together to do so), he and his friends gathered in an area designated OOG to talk about who was responsible, and plan retaliation. Metagaming even in defeat.

So from what is written here so far, metagaming is bad, right? For the most part, yes it is. However, there are some forms of metagaming that are not as severe, and some we don’t even consider metagaming. We just do them because they make sense, or sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Some examples include:

–       Metagaming for Safety

–       Setting the Scene

–       Accidental Metagaming

–       Meta-Metagaming

Metagaming for Safety is something that many LARPS do, and don’t really apply to any other forms of RPGs. At every LARP that I’ve been to, there’s a “Hold Rule.” This is when someone yells, “HOLD!” and everyone within earshot drops to one knee and looks at the ground. It effectively pauses the game. This rule is used mainly for safety concerns, such as an injury, or requesting to move the combat to safer ground so that no one falls on those big sharp rocks lining the side of that ravine they’re getting pushed into. Other considerations are for those running the Plot for the event, and need to change something in the scene rapidly (Setting the Scene).

Sometimes people screw up. They forget how much health their characters have, or forget about an effect they have that is detrimental to their characters. No one is perfect. Accidental Metagaming happens when some lines get crossed about what you know IG and OOG. It can also occur if you have multiple characters in a game. Having to remember what you know and do not know can be hard enough, it gets harder when you have to split all that knowledge between multiple characters. Were you there as Cuddles the Discombobulator when the Queen was assassinated, or were you Penelope the Pixie Priestess? LARPing is intense enough at times when you play one character. When you play multiple ones, it just adds to the difficulty.

Then, there’s something I never considered until I started writing this, but makes a lot of sense. Metagaming while Metagaming. Whoa….

This is common in situations with the Hold Rule. You’re in an intense fight, surrounded by enemies. Then someone calls a Hold nearby due to being hit in the head too hard, and everyone drops to their knees and looks at the ground.  Because you don’t have anything to do with why the hold was called, you have time to think about what you’re going to do. Formulate an escape plan, recall that magic item in your bag you forgot about.

Unfortunately, this is a form of metagaming. But it does happen. Our brains are wired for survival, even pretendy fun-time survival.  We can’t help it. And you can’t prevent it from happening. Sure, your head will still be down while in the Hold, so you can’t survey your surroundings, but you’re still formulating a plan in your head while the game is paused. There’s no way of preventing this sort of instinctive metagaming.

So, how do we prevent metagaming from ruining an event for someone? Well, metagaming for safety purposes doesn’t ruin anyone’s time. In fact, it makes it so it isn’t ruined for someone. When using it for setting a scene, if done correctly, can enhance the player-base’s experience. Accidental and Meta-Metagaming does happen, and it’s something that cannot be prevented. It’s not necessarily as terrible thing as intentional metagaming, however.

Speaking of which, intentional metagaming is a bad thing, as explained in the earlier portion of this essay.  It is a form of cheating and needs to be addressed. Preventing it isn’t as easy as it sounds, but involves conflict resolution on an OOG level. Those running the game should take the time to ensure that those that players that don’t get along OOG will not take it out on each other IG. A talk between all parties involved should be a necessary step. After that, the situation should be monitored closely for a while, to ensure that the chat had an effect.

Usually, if the metagamer really is metagaming, and doing it a lot, these people are usually found out and warned, and eventually removed from the game one way or the other, as was the case during those early days at the LARP I attend now. They usually leave on their own volition after complaining that no one wants to play with them, or are removed by whatever process the LARP in question has for handling such problematic players.

To prevent metagaming, however, is knowing what it is and being conscious of it when while LARPing, or just hanging out with the friends you LARP with. I for one enjoy listening to the stories of my friends’ character’s escapades, but I make sure that if I recall those things while I’m playing my character, to ask if I can recall hearing about it as my character. If I play multiple characters, I could keep a journal for each character I have so that I can look back and see if the character I’m playing at the time would recall  the relevant information.

My character also has secrets. Knowledge he doesn’t want to give freely, or items he doesn’t want anyone to know he has. I keep those to myself, even though talking about these things OOG would be cool. This keeps others from metagaming, even if it’s accidental when it would happen.

Some go as far as to not talk about what happens to their characters, unless it’s a story that a lot of people have seen already, or want to hear about other’s stories, so they don’t metagame later. I think it’s a bit extreme, but I get the point.

Metagaming is bad, for the most part. It can ruin an event for a player, especially if it is the cause of losing the ability to play a character that you’ve worked hard on over the years. But the bad metagaming is preventable.  It just takes a little forethought and practice.

In short, only you can prevent metagaming!

One response to “Metagaming and You”

  1. Josh says :

    I used to LARP in the One World By Night organization, and metagaming was a rampant problem. ST’s would keep copies of visiting players sheets so their own characters in another game could have an edge, I knew one ST in an often visited chronicle that actually sold visiting players sheets to his/her players, other players would snoop on scenes far away so glean information to use later…the list goes on and on. Needless to say, I don’t play in that organization anymore and I’m grateful for it.

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