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Metagame in theory

Started by Jack Spencer Jr, May 17, 2002, 02:58:12 PM

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Jack Spencer Jr

On a base level, RPGs have two types of mechanics. The first is character-centric. The player's character is broken down into traits, a set of numbers. The play environment, including other characters, is likewise broken down. Through these numbers and how the compare and interact is how the player is able to interact with the play environment through the agent of his character.

If the player, Bart, wishes to lift a rock; his character, Sam, is the one who'll do the lifting. This could boil down to a simple numerical comparison. If Sam's strength trait is higher than the rock's weight trait he may lift it. A random factor may be applied to reflect uncertainty. Perhaps the rock really isn't as heavy as it looks. Sam's fingers may slip. The end result is if Bart wishes to have any effect in the play environment, it will be through Sam. The tools Sam provides Bart with are based on what a person in the real world is able to do; magic and super powers aside. Sam can lift rock, jump trees, talk to people and so on. If Sam has a magical power, he may be able to make a rock materialize out of thin air but he cannot make a rock suddenly appear that has always been there in the first place.

This is the domain of the second set of mechanics, which gives the player tools that may have nothing to do with their character at all. These rules may include pure mechanical effects applied to the player-centric mechanics (Marvel Super Heroes's Karma Points, Hero Wars's Hero Points) or effect the play environment directly (director stance) or various other tools for interacting with the play environment.

If Sam is bleeding to death in an alley, he may wish someone would help him, but he really has no effect on the situation. It's up to Bart to spend the fate point or whatever to see to it that Sam doesn't die.

These are sometimes referred to as metagame, but I have a problem with that term. I first encountered the term in Sean Patrick Fannon's Fantasy Role-Playing Gamer's Bible:

QuoteMetagaming- This is a term frequently used to describe when someone is using "out-of-game" information to assist "in-game" characters or situations.

This could mean things like reading the Monster Manual or adventure ahead of time to coaching the other players when your own character is not present and so on. In essence, cheating. It is using something you are not supposed to have to your advantage like a folding chair in a wrestling match.

This definition doesn't jibe with the GNS essay precisely:

QuoteMetagame includes all positioning and behavioral statements about the character, as well as player rights to over-ride the existing Effectiveness rules.

By the essay, the two types of mechanics are Effectiveness, pretty much any numbers on the character sheet, and Metagame, everything else, with one, the other, or both drawing on Resources. What I'm talking about here doesn't precisely match up with the essay's definitions. Things like relationships and behavior are both part of the character-centric mechanics but are listed as metagame concerns. Obviously, I'm approaching this from a slightly different angle.

A big problem I have with the term metagame is the word itself. Meta means above, beyond or outside, as in outside the game. This bothers me since this assumes that the character-centric mechanics ARE the game. I suppose you could say that the metagame changes the game in this sense. That is, via metagame, the character-centric mechanics may be changed. But this assumes that the character-centric mechanics indeed are the game and that anything else is outside of it. Also, if the metagame mechanic is part of the game, actually written in the rules, how is it outside of it?

This is probably something for that assumption thread. It is assumed that all RPGs set up, in one sense or another, a form of game world physics (although it may not be mean represent physics at all. Stay with me) and the player controls a character that it modeled in this system to provide a tool for interactivity. Everything beyond this is metagame.

I would propose a better term than "metagame" but none comes to mind so to heck with that.

What I would like to see in a RPG that does not follow this assumption at all. That is, be all metagame. If nothing else it sounds like an interesting experiment. I predict that the real growth in RPG design will be in the metagame area. The character-centric concerns have been done and redone so many times, it's a cliche.

Walt Freitag

If it helps you to be more comfortable with the term, I'll point out that "meta" doesn't always mean "change," as it does in metamorphosis and metastasize. Fannon's and the GNS usage are also correct, in that "meta" really does also mean "above," "beyond," "transcending," or "of a higher logical type," as in metaphysics, metalanguage, and metalogic. The modern usage (especially among those who have read Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach in their impressionable youth) centers on the latter meaning, with the additional implication of reflexivity or self-reference. Thus, metalogic is logic applied to the practice of logic; a metalanguage is a language designed to be used to describe or discuss language. But in this sense it no longer means truly "beyond" or "outside." Metalogic is still logic; a metalanguage is still a language; metagame mechanisms are still game mechanisms.

The conceptual problem with the all-metagame idea is that for a game mechanism to be "meta" there has to be something for it to be "meta" to. "All meta" is a contradiction, like trying to build a house that's "all second storey, no first storey." Shouldn't you then just call that second storey the first storey? For example, from a role playing point of view, one could argue that the card game Once Upon a Time is all-metagame. But it's also all just a game on its own level. I don't think anything particularly new or special happens when you remove the character-centric mechanics.

But I'd be thrilled if someone proved me wrong.

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: wfreitagThe conceptual problem with the all-metagame idea is that for a game mechanism to be "meta" there has to be something for it to be "meta" to.
Precisely my point, but like I said, I couldn't think of a better term. What I mean is I'd like to see something that doesn't have the character-focused mechanics in favor on the non-character-focus mechanics.

What I typically see is the character-centric stuff taking center stage with the metagame, for lack of a better term, as an add-on or an extra push over the cliff, so to speak.

But then since metagame is generally used to break or override the character-centric stuff, I don't see very clearly how it would work.
QuoteI don't think anything particularly new or special happens when you remove the character-centric mechanics.

But I'd be thrilled if someone proved me wrong.
This, again, is the point of my original post. To get people thinking along these lines and see what happens. I suspect that some results from this will be good, others not-so-good. But you never know until you try.

Le Joueur

[Shortened for brevity.]
Quote from: Jack Spencer JrOn a base level, RPGs have two types of mechanics. The first is character-centric.

This is the domain of the second set of mechanics, which gives the player tools that may have nothing to do with their character at all.

A big problem I have with the term metagame is the word itself. Meta means change.

I would propose a better term than "metagame" but none comes to mind so to heck with that.
First of all, 'meta' does not mean change (I can't find anywhere you could get that).  It means 'after' and comes from Greek.  In this usage, like in metaphysics, it means 'after' the game or 'all things outside of the game.'

I believe your main problem stems from the vagueness of the usage of the word game (as can be seen elsewhere around here these days, there's a lot of controversy over what exactly is meant by 'game').  I believe, based on your inference in this usage, is that game actually means within the sequence of the in-game causality of events, what I call narrative (not to be confused with Narrativism).

Shifting the words slightly gives us meta-narrative.  Calling fate or hero points meta-narrative mechanics seems pretty close to what you're calling for, because this would mean mechanics 'outside' the narrative.  The bigger problem is getting this new term assimilated into the culture you face with your problems with the term 'metagame.'

I don't really see such a slight terminological shift 'catching on' very soon, but I highly recommend using the new term (and facing the difficulties explaining it every time) if you choose to attempt this change.  Better, you might create something so attractive that uses the new term frequently that all the 'hip' people will find themselves having to use it.  So goes culture.

I have my own problems with other terminology, but I am following this advice to effect a similar change.  Who knows if it will work?

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!

Mike Holmes

Adventures of Baron Munchausen? Primeval? Universalis? I think a lot of games are being creatted with the non-character-centric as primary rules concept these days.

If you don't like Metagame, you could use the term Extragame. As opposed to Intragame.

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Jack Spencer Jr

I've edittied my original post because this was starting to turn into a semantics debate and I thought it best to leave my crumby dictionaries definition of "meta" and my own stupidity out of it. This does make the first couple replies confusing. Oh, well. Pop goes the weasel. Now we can focus on the topic at hand, which is not a new word for the term metagame.

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Mike HolmesAdventures of Baron Munchausen? Primeval? Universalis? I think a lot of games are being creatted with the non-character-centric as primary rules concept these days.

I have Baron. It's probably the game that got me on this line of thinking. I'm not familiar with the toher two. I'll have to look them up.

QuoteIf you don't like Metagame, you could use the term Extragame. As opposed to Intragame.

Except that this is just changing the word without changing the meaning or what is implied at all.

Refering to extragame and intragame would be like, I don't know, like refering to castling in Chess as extragame. It's a special move, one that may be disallowed in various styles of play, but it is very much part of the game.

This is a piss-poor example. I admit that, but it's the best I can come up with at the moment.

lumpley

Hey.

I think that all game mechanics are best understood as metagame mechanics.  There is no rock, no Sam, no game world or its physics to model; there's just Bart and his friends sitting around a table.  Game mechanics are about whose assertions get adopted into the group's consensus, about who gets to say what.  They apportion credibility.

What you're calling character-centric mechanics, for the most part, exist to limit the creative input of the players.  If Bart asserts that Sam lifts the rock, we don't just take his word for it; we do this odd verification thing where Bart has to roll under 85 with percentile dice.  In effect, the mechanics say that 85% of the time, Bart is a reliable judge of Sam's strength, and the rest of the time he's not, his assertions are false.  Worse, they say that Bart can't know or choose which 15% of the time he's mistaken.  And worse still, character-centric mechanics usually pass power off to the GM.  Bart doesn't get to interpret his own rolls, for the most part.  He says "Sam lifts the rock," he rolls his dice, and we all turn to the GM to find out if Bart's telling the truth.

'Metagame mechanics' return some credibility to the players.  Bart can spend a power point and say "Sam lifts the rock, and I'm not fooling around this time."

I'm not knocking it.  Having more credibility when you mean it is a really important idea.

So but my assertion is that when you're designing a game, you should never say "this is the in-game mechanic, and this is the metagame mechanic."  What you should say is "under these circumstances we can take the player's word for it, and under these circumstances we'll limit the player's input.  This is how assertions get accepted into the group's consensus."

-Vincent

Mike Holmes

But,Vincent, nobody uses the term Metagame when actually writing their RPG. I don't say Karmajiggy Points are metagame, I say, KP can be used to prevent yourself from being killed, and then explain how it works mechanically. We only use the term here to discuss the concept for which we all undserstand that your reverse definition is correct.

Mountains of molehils here, people.

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Jack Spencer Jr

Excellent point, Vincent. Actually, I meant to include something along these lines in my original post.
Oh well. Pop goes the weasel.

What I was going to say, and it is slightly different from what Vincent had said, was that part of it seems to be that some believe that there are two sets of mechanics, one for the character and one for the player. Fact is, both sets of mechanics are for the player because without the player, the character does not exist. So in reality, all the rules are for the player and the character-specific rules are, pretty much as Vincent said, a method of filtering what the player can do.

More or less, anyway.

Quote from: Mike HolmesI don't say Karmajiggy Points are metagame, I say, KP can be used to prevent yourself from being killed, and then explain how it works mechanically.
I believe that no one thinks in terms of effectiveness/metagame (to use the GNS essay terms for lack of my own) directly, but they do think in these terms. The character-centric stuff is what you've come up with first in this hypethetical example because this is assumed to be what an RPG is, what it must have and a logical starting point for developing the tools for play.

The Karmajiggy Points only came into play because there was something wrong with this base. Exactly what is uncertain (and it is hypethetical, so who cares) although there may be a problem with the lethality of the system since you said "KP can be used to prevent yourself from being killed." It was too easy for a character to get killed in your opinion, so you'd added a method to allow the player to veto your base system and keep their character alive because you could not fix this problem in the base system itself. It's a patch rule, in essence. It may be a very good patch and it works well, but it's still a patch.

Or maybe I'm putting too many words in your mouth. Not that it matters since it is a real game in production (I do think Karmajiggy Points is a great name, though). But this is how many view RPG design and how the rules are and are supposed to be.

I guess what I'm really saying is that the character centric rules (I guess I'm stuck with that term) have been developed to a level of sophistication over the years and now it's time for the other methods, the non-character-centric (ugh!) rules to be developed.

ANd I suppose you already know that since you'd sited three games off the top of your head that don't use character-centric rules

Mike Holmes

To clarify, Karmajigy Points are hypothetical (take the name if you really like it), made to make a point. But I could easily point to Hero Points in Hero Wars for exactly the sort of think I'm talking about, if you want a real example. I bet if we were to read the rules, that nowhere does it speak to how these rules are "metagame" but in fact how the player uses them to influence the game. That's my only point. As such the term Metagame reains useful in discussions such as these, IMO.

Such metagame mechanics have been aroung forever, and unusually, TSR (Rassmusen?) probably gets credit for inventing them. Fame and Fortune points from the original Top Secret game, allowed a player to save his character from certian death. But even here, we can see that such "metagame" is not extant to fix a broken system. It is there to evoke a result. Top Secret is meant to emulate James Bond and other such spy stuff. In such stories, the protagonist often survives all sorts of brushes with death, not only by his own ingenuity or abilities, but also by sheer random happenstance. The F&F points were meant to simulate that. In the same way as a writer protects his character with his meta-story power, the player is able to protect his character with meta-game. Not broken, not a fix. Just one way to approach an idea.

Again, to be clear, Universalis is a game that I'm writing with Ralph Mazza. And as such I can reassure you that it is exactly what you are describing (a fact that hopefully you'll be able to determine for yourself soon). Anyhow, other similar "non-character centric rules" games that I've seen include stuff from Bankuei, WFD from Paul Czege, WYRD from Scott Knipe, Mike Gentry's Framework, and others including your The Wheel. And I think Primeval beat us all to it, and is still one of the most hardcore in that vein to date. I think that you are simply describing a wave of games that is already emerging.

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Mike HolmesAs such the term Metagame reains useful in discussions such as these, IMO.
Only if there is a game for them to be Meta from. Like all of the games you've listed, there is no game to be over, so the term loses it's meaning.

I guess I shouldn't worry about this too much. The word "neon" doesn't mean "colorful squiggly light" but "new." It's called that because at one point it was new. Now it's old but we still use the word.

QuoteSuch metagame mechanics have been aroung forever, and unusually, TSR (Rassmusen?) probably gets credit for inventing them.
I feel I should take a moment here to point out that TSR has attempted some amazingly experimental RPGs over the year. Much more than we give them credit for. Blew me away when I figured that out.
QuoteFame and Fortune points from the original Top Secret game, allowed a player to save his character from certian death. But even here, we can see that such "metagame" is not extant to fix a broken system. It is there to evoke a result. Top Secret is meant to emulate James Bond and other such spy stuff. In such stories, the protagonist often survives all sorts of brushes with death, not only by his own ingenuity or abilities, but also by sheer random happenstance. The F&F points were meant to simulate that. In the same way as a writer protects his character with his meta-story power, the player is able to protect his character with meta-game. Not broken, not a fix. Just one way to approach an idea.
Maybe broken and fix were incorrect terms on my part but I still see such a design strategy as inelegant. Maybe that's just personal taste.

In another thread, I mentioned an article by James Ernest about game design. In this article, he describes it like making a statue. The block of marble represents whatever preconceptions you may have about the game you're making. You sculpt by chipping away at this marble, or by adding clay. The clay represents rules you add to what you've already brought to the table.

F&F points is a piece of clay. Now, it's not a bad piece of clay and it looks pretty good but instead of adding something, they could have taken the chisel and and chipped away several preconcieved notions like "the game mechanics must be realistic (or even pseudo-realistic)" "characters are defined by physical abilities" and so on so that the game would be a little more portable and the F&F mechanics would be the main engine that drives the game rather than a nitro injection for the occasional burst of speed.

Is my way better? Worse? Those are subjective terms and I can subjectively say that I think it's better, but your mileage may vary. In either case, we seem to agree more than we disagree on the subject, I think.


Again, to be clear, Universalis is a game that I'm writing with Ralph Mazza. And as such I can reassure you that it is exactly what you are describing (a fact that hopefully you'll be able to determine for yourself soon). Anyhow, other similar "non-character centric rules" games that I've seen include stuff from Bankuei, WFD from Paul Czege, WYRD from Scott Knipe, Mike Gentry's Framework, and others including your The Wheel. And I think Primeval beat us all to it, and is still one of the most hardcore in that vein to date. I think that you are simply describing a wave of games that is already emerging.

Mike[/quote]