Any time there's a trend, there's usually something to examine that's behind it. In Part II, I talked about a trend involving metagame, rules, and different types of roleplaying games. While high-immersion games (low metagame scenarios, like in Alternate Reality Games) and low-immersion games (high metagame scenarios, like storytelling RPGs in the vein of Fiasco) both had a small amount of simple and abstract rules, it was the games in the middle which had complex rulesets. The more a game lies in this middleground between metagame and immersion, the more involved its ruleset is.
Two Opposing Forces
Well, that's a bit of a dramatic title, but it does describe the reality of games pretty well. See, if you think about it, roleplaying games exist as a way to bring together the ideas of metagame and immersion.
Metagame gives you the power to shape the course of the story, because it gives you knowledge over the flow of that story. Whether your metagame is knowledge of when monster's abilities will recharge or knowledge that this enemy isn't the final boss, but rather a pushover foe, that knowledge lets you plan and think in terms of the game world, and not in terms of a character. That gives you power. With this power, you can control how the story goes, and you have an assurance of your character's fate to some degree.
Immersion gives you the power to experience the story, because it restricts your knowledge. Your immersion, though it's a boundary, can be good because it lets you identify with the character you play. You make decisions more in line with what they would actually do, rather than basing them on out-of-character knowledge. Even if you're trying to stay in character, there's some things that you can't block out of your mind. So you're limited in your knowledge. Yet, paradoxically, that gives you power as well. It gives you the power to enter into the footsteps of your character. By denying yourself information, you do something that you couldn't do with metagaming.
Roleplaying games walk a fine balance between these two ideals. Here's why: you're playing a game. If you could be totally immersed in the game, you would be limited to your own capacities. Without a metagame, you can't play a character who has supernatural abilities, or one who has capabilities outside of your own. You have to have some sort of separation from that character, if you want to play anything other than yourself. Not only that, but some things in an RPG simply aren't possible to replicate in real life, either because of physical impossibility or because of danger to the players. For instance, the avant-garde method of resolving combat with real weapons. Not recommended. It gets messy.
Too much of a metagame, though, and you can't connect with your character. Some people have listed this as a flaw of Fiasco, although that particular game seems more to be about playing and enjoying the story as a story, instead of enjoying it as characters within the story. People have listed this as a flaw of 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. And it easily could be. You lose touch with your character because you're tracking healing surges, marks, and the cleric's buffs.
But you have to walk a line, and play from both sides. Fortunately, we humans have something called imagination to do that. If you're metagaming, you still have the ability to step into your role, and pretend, and experience the adventure, even while knowing combat stats. If you're being immersed, you still can step outside of that immersion to be a little Genre Savvy, and remember there's a bigger story going on, so that you're not kept totally in the dark.
It's something that should always be remembered about roleplaying games. No matter where on the spectrum they fall, they always walk a balance between those two aspects. Don't knock a game for leaning heavily to one or the other, but try and meet it where it is, and inject some of your own imagination. It'll take you miles.
- Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!
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