The “Meta-game” is, broadly, the awareness of the rules of the game that a player might develop and interact with, but which are unknown to characters. It is often used in a derogatory sense, to indicate that a character is taking some action based on information not available to it, but well known to the player. Examples of that are easy to come by, so I won’t trouble with providing one.
The difficulty with trying to discuss the “meta-game” in a lucid and helpful way is that it’s something of a “baggy monster”. Included in the meta-game are:
- some, but not all, of the game world rules
- the social contract between the players
- an understanding (implicit or explicit) of the meta-plot
- boundaries for character actions
I am sure there are other things too, which are not easily articulated. I think that Ron Edwards’ GNS theory is a function of meta-game structure.
The conceptual framework that I have been developing views roleplaying as occuring in two distinct arenas. On the one hand we have the players: they must interact in some way in the real world to try and convey their perception of the game to each other. On the other hand, we have the characters in the game who live out their lives. We can think of the “meta-game” as the connection between the players and the characters. Unfortunately, by “characters” we must include a wider understanding of the character than we necessarily have of the players.
This kind of model allows us to exclude a few things from the catch-all common-usage “meta-game”. Most usefully, it allows us to treat the interactions directly between the players separately. It excludes the “social contract” part of the equation.
Now, while this is useful in several ways, it is not necessarily helpful to change your vocabulary, or to use existing words in a new way. This is a major fault (IMHO) with GNS theory: Edwards has defined and re-defined a whole bunch of words with other uses in ways which are not always intuitive, and are in fact often against the intuitive meaning. Moreover, it can be difficult as the user of this “new speak” to keep things perfectly straight. Also, most neologisms sound pretensious.
I’m going to have to come back to this and carry on later, but the key idea here is that we have a connection between the player and their manifestation within the game world. So, when discussing “meta-game” in the broad common-usage sense, we end up wanting to look at that connection as well as world-construction and social contract issues.