If you’ve played more than a couple of games, you’ve done it. I know that I’ve done it many times and I’ll probably do it again despite my best efforts. It’s something that everyone who plays an RPG will do several times at the least, and often they do it with the full knowledge that what they are doing is wrong! But it’s something that is an absolute siren call to us. It’s as addictive as The One Ring, as powerful as the Dark Side of the Force, and as seductive as the whispers of The Old Gods.
I’m talking about Meta-Gaming, Out Of Character (OOC) knowledge, or as I like to call it, cheating.
Now, don’t get your feathers ruffled because I call it cheating! You can claim a soul as pure as you want, but I’ve been doing this for years and I’m telling you now, NOBODY is that good of a person! I often find that people are using their outside of game knowledge unwittingly, but everyone uses it knowingly at least once! It’s really difficult to KNOW something and to not let that bleed through to the knowledge and actions of your character. You will act on this information out of sheer self-preservation simply because our characters are often extensions of ourselves. So, completely preventing the use of OOC knowledge is an unreasonable goal for anyone to achieve. However, the first step in attempting to fix something is acknowledging that it exists in the first place!
Putting an end to Meta-Gaming starts with the Game Masters out there, we have to stop making it so easy for our players! And this is not a difficult thing for us to do, we just have to throw some twists into our games that keep the players from immediately identifying the enemies we’ve put them up against or the situation we’ve put them in. That can be something as simple as altering descriptions, or it can be as complex as changing the stats, but even that only needs to be a point or two. It’s as easy as that in most cases because the players are expecting one thing and when you change it even a little, it throws them off! So, make the monster a different color, give the bad guy a bit more armor, make that dragon spit acid instead of fire! Throwing them curve balls will keep them on their toes as well!
Okay, players, you’ve got the hardest job of all in this! You have to learn how to FORGET everything you know! That’s right, you have to make like a river in Egypt and BECOME DENIAL! I know this is harder to do than it is to say. However! It is possible to cut down on your meta-gaming in a significant way! Let me help you get there!
First, you have to put the books down! Seriously! You can’t keep yourself from OOC knowledge when you are studying everything all the time! Go read something else, go play a different game! This world of gaming has A LOT of different flavors and there’s always something new to explore out there! Don’t limit yourself to one game system that you’ve fully invested yourself to the exclusion of all others! There’s ALWAYS another game out there that is different and exciting for you to check out! New games are coming out all the time, try picking something up that you would NEVER play, you never know, you may just surprise yourself with what you find!
Second, you have to learn how to do something called “thought-stop”. Recognize that within you, you have knowledge that is far greater than what your character has. So, when you begin to use OOC knowledge, recognize it and shut it down. Now, I realize that’s harder to do than simply saying it. But consistent effort in this area will eventually give you big returns. When I’m a player, I regularly check in with myself during a scene to make sure that I’m not using OOC knowledge. Doing this has helped me to make a much quicker assessment of my meta-gaming habits. It takes a split second now, and the moment I realize that I’m about to use information that my character shouldn’t have access to, I shunt that knowledge to the side and move on as if I don’t know any of it.
Third, how do you ignore information that you know like it’s second nature, like it’s part of you? Simple. You have to go deeper into your character than you have ever been. Remember that you are attempting to play SOMEONE ELSE! In many ways, you are trying to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, live someone else’s life! You can’t do that with OOC knowledge! You are still being YOU, and YOU don’t exist in this world! So, learn to ignore the information that you know. Learn to put that knowledge into a box and set it aside for the duration of the game. Pretend that it’s knowledge of another game system. Maybe it was something you read in an unrelated book, something you saw on TV. But whatever you do, you need to dismiss this information as irrelevant to your character. What you know, DOES NOT apply here!
And why wouldn’t you want to use meta-gaming? Well, that question opens up a can of worms for sure. But, I think that you should ask yourself why do you want to use it? Be honest here, really, why do you want to use this knowledge that your character isn’t supposed to have? How is it fun to win a rigged game? There is very little challenge to winning in this context. And without having an actual, real, honest challenge, victory has very little appeal. Because it is hollow, it is false, it is a fabrication and a lie. A real victory comes from true struggle, and true struggle comes from not knowing your enemy’s weakness or intentions.
Look, we all want to win in these games. I get it! We all want to be the hero, get the bad guy, and go home to a huge parade! The thing that we sometimes overlook is that without the struggle, it’s not worth it! Really! Why go on the adventure if you know that you’re going to win no matter what? Isn’t that what meta-gaming is? And remember, sometimes you won’t win, and that’s not cool. But doesn’t it make it that much more exciting when you do win? Why would you want to rob yourself of that joy?
So, consider these thoughts when you approach gaming. After all, being a hero takes more than slaying the dragon and rescuing the maiden. Sometimes it takes slaying the ego and rescuing the fun.
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6 Comments Add yours
Great post, Cindy. And… I never do that 😬
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😀 Of course!
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The only times I get bent out of shape about OOC is when a player keeps advising other players how to run their characters–especially if said player isn’t in the same scene with the others, or if a player has peaked at the adventure I’m going to run. Otherwise, I don’t get nitpicky about metagaming. I just assume its going to happen. Sure, it doesn’t make sense if a character with low intelligence and wisdom is coming up with lots of cool ideas because the player has advanced degrees, but if that’s a issue, then maybe the character needs to be swapped out with another.
But if you do want a set of rules which can stomp metagaming and OOC all to hell, try The Burning Wheel.
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I’ll have to take a look at that, thanks for the tip!
Burning Wheel is super crunchy, but an amazing game.