This guide is an explanation of the meaning and uses (and misuses) of Metagaming. The advanced control techniques, namely “Pushing” and “Leading” were jointly developed by Pseudosyne and me (Alias) on RPGForumsOnline.com.
Metagaming is the act of over-reaching the bounds of the character. Past the introduction, given that a player controls only their own character, any changes to environment or plot occur as perceptions of that character. Metagaming, then, is overstepping a character’s perceptions and tapping into the knowledge and power of the player (who knows more and can do more). This can either be used correctly, or incorrectly, with an incredibly fine line between the extremes.
Incorrect (read: wholly unacceptable) uses of metagaming are generally deemed Godmoding. Here the player assumes a level of control far above and beyond what the other players have agreed to use. Examples of godmoding include, but are not limited to, speaking/acting for others’ characters, directly describing the damage (physical or emotional) caused to others’ characters, giving one’s own character godlike/super powers without due explanation, acting (inexplicably) off of others’ characters’ thoughts, matching a character’s strengths to others’ characters’ weaknesses, etc. I am trying to cast metagaming in a neutral light, and am associating the things we generally hate about it with Godmoding instead. So, bear with me.
Proper (read: socially acceptable) metagaming requires a very tight hold on what not to do. For example, it is possible to act on another character’s thoughts, but to do so without godmoding. By giving due explanation of one’s own character’s perception of another character’s personality and body language in a situation, the metagamer’s character can discern the basic gist of the thoughts, if they are easily deducible. In this way, the player, who knows the other character’s thoughts, hones their character’s perception in the right direction, so that their character also gains that information. This is usually done to move along plot, but should not used to gain an unfair advantage in a confrontational situation without proper explanation. This is a very common and often overlooked form of metagaming, used to streamline a roleplay. The fact that this is often overlooked (as in, critically) should show that this really is an acceptable form of metagaming.
Now onto some techniques that employ/are-classed-as metagaming (but don’t ruin the game if used with care).
“Leading” is the process of moving the action of a scenario forward by some short interval without explicitly acting out all portions of the scene. It is called “leading” precisely because the “leader” makes some logical leap forward, thus prompting all other players to make the same leap to arrive at the new point in time. Leading is used to skip over elements like necessary but known dialogue, occurrences which are inexplicable now but can be explained later, etc. It is necessary that all skipped events be mentioned by the leader, and be easy for others to understand how the missed events could have happened. Leading hinges on cooperation from other players to accept the leap forward so as to avoid contradicting the leader.
If the player leading requires that others’ character perform in some way that is precedented and natural to their personality, then the leader may imply that those characters did indeed perform in just that, or a similar manner. Note that the leader may only imply that the events were accomplished, not how (in terms of specific dialogue and actions) the other characters accomplished them. The other players would then pick up on the missed events, and fill their own portions in to match the leader’s plot. Leading should only be used in the case that an RP is dying off, or moving in some nonsensical direction. Any use of leading should first be discussed with other players, and then be well thought out, as it is irreversible!
“Pushing” is akin to leaving breadcrumbs for other players to pick up. While leading is reliant on active metagaming, pushing makes use of passive metagaming. Often times the action of the roleplay might stagnate, or take a turn towards the degenerate. Times like those, but also when a player just wants to develop their character, or introduce the next “act” of the plot, pushing is a non-invasive control technique.
The actual work done to “push” something is akin to “hooking“: the player pushing writes a series of details that at the present moment are unused. It is different from hooking in that hooks are open ended details, added to give players a starting point. The details left as a result of pushing are quite the opposite: they are all tied together by a common goal or consequence, whichever goal or consequence the “pusher” intends.
The technique of pushing has some merits and pros over other control techniques. For one, it is non-invasive, meaning that it does not require any direct control of other characters. As well, it leaves the actual work up to other players, while giving them the illusion that they came up with the goal or consequence that results. This garners interests, and makes an RP longer lived.
Passive metagaming may come into play if the pusher describes a new element as “within reach” or “easily observable” by some specific character, prompting them to act on the element. This is passive because the other players do not have to respond. Contrarily, active metagaming, like that used in leading, requires that other players respond with complementary action to fill in the time skip.
Of course, pushing is difficult to pull off correctly. Since the trail of breadcrumb details is only clear in your mind, players might misinterpret the desired consequence, and go off in another direction altogether. Players might also not use all breadcrumb details present. The trail left might be too loose, and thus hard to follow, or it might be too tight and obvious, and consequently boring. However, aside from the last variant, all of the possible outcomes of pushing involve very dynamic play, making pushing worthwhile to try out!
The moral behind metagaming is to find a comfortable median. Active metagaming is more invasive, but more direct, thus more likely to accomplish what you might see necessary. Passive metagaming is not invasive, but is very indirect, so while other players will not be unhappy, the metagaming is less likely to accomplish the intended task. The level of appropriate metagaming should always be decided by any group of roleplayers collaborating on a roleplay, so that players who wish to make use of advanced control techniques know where their limits lie.
Having read this guide, you might wonder why “leading” is active, while “pushing” is passive, and why the terminologies aren’t switched around. This is due in part to the origination of the concepts (separately), and the terminology was applied to them without due consideration. However, another argument is that when given a push, players have a choice on whether to move or resist, while when being led, the choices are to follow or to hold a mutiny (mutinies are rather difficult in the sense of a roleplay). Regardless of terminology, the lessons lie in active and passive metagaming, so take that away with you if you take nothing else.
So try your hand (with others’ permission) at socially acceptable metagaming, and let me know how you fair via comments or emails!