Rob Donaghue over at Some Space to Think, wrote an interesting article about Metagaming. I responded to his blog and then I also posted that response (with a little more meat on it), here. [Link]
Let me start by saying Metagaming is good. If someone accuses you of metagaming, I'd be curious to know what they mean and why that's a bad thing. My assumption is this.
Player one sits down to "be in character." Player two sits down to "kill things." Player three sits down to "hang out with friends." GM sits down to immerse players in his gaming world experience. They get together once a week, have snacks, talk about work, and kill 20 orcs before the night is over. That is not a far-fetched scenario by any means.
Player four is invited to join the group and he comes from a different background of gaming. He acts on information his character wouldn't have, he adds details to the world the GM didn't approve, and he jumps back and forth between 1st and 3rd person to suit his needs, sometimes narrating some of the background action.
All of this may get under the GM and player's skin.
For those raised on D&D, this is not how you do things.
But I'm getting away from the author's point.
I think the difference here is inherent in the difference between design and play. A designer designs the game he likes. A developer makes sure that game is fun for as many people as possible. And then the player does whatever he wants with it. Take GTA for example. You can do all the missions or you can run around kill pimps and hookers. It's up to you.
That said, a fundamental flaw in the design of MMOs and non-tabletop RPGs is the lack of team coherency and unity. If everyone is vying for control of "top dog" then the game becomes a pissing contest of who is better at min-maxing their character and so on.
And that's no fun.
A good game designer designs numerous paths to victory. And that's usually some sort of "meta" design. Take D&D1 for example. Not a well-designed game by any means, but if a wizard is really powerful at 10th level, but not very powerful at 1st level, is it meta to wait it out and hope for a powerful character later? Sure. In the purest sense of the word, yes. But that's not a bad thing. People use META like a pejorative. But it's not.
As a player, I get to be Actor, Author, and Audience all at once. And that's where META is far better than some of these simulationist or immersive players can understand.
Why limit myself to a single point of view and only enjoy one aspect of play? It makes no sense to me.
In all fairness, I gave up DM Authority games a long time ago. The INDIE movement got one thing right. Everyone at the table has the brain capacity to make decisions about how the world works and what constitutes success.
I hope that if the MEEK have taught us anything, it's that playing at the table with the right group of people is more important than worrying about which die probability curve is best for this situation, when the real question is... will the story be enriched by me failing right now?
If more games gave out points for failure, you'd see more people flub things early on in order to get those juicy "drama points" that pay off at the end. Which brings us all the way back to our quintet of gamers.
Player four may be breaking a lot of rules of this group's social contract. But he isn't really breaking any good rules. What he's done is take people out of their comfort zones. The fact is, the metagamer may be just as selfish in his endeavors as any other player, but he's looking at the complete picture. And a gamer who believes there is only one path to fun isn't missing out on a lot.