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Fun with Metaplay in RPGs

When my game group played a really epic game of Primetime Adventures back in 2009, we took to the language of television shows like ducks to water. In particular, we talked about the game in terms of our shows fans and what the forums were saying about us.

Our five-episode show was called “Dark Matter”, and was a bit Battlestar Galactica space-grit meets real-grit of war on terror and secret prisons. Things we talked about after a session included:

  • Fan speculation and theories of stuff not yet revealed
  • Reactions to the episode
  • Memes from show recaps
  • What new animated GIFs were being made from scenes (many got dark)
  • Slash/ship fic
  • Cosplay pics and crafter discussion (actually we didn’t do this, but as I’m writing this list, we totally could have)

That’s along with what PTA asks you to do, regarding session recaps and other TV techniques.

Though this tool could sound silly, it turned out to be an amazing tool for preserving continuity, foreshadowing events, flagging what we were interested in, and allow us to briefly explore ideas in a space where we weren’t committed to them.

The Nordic LARP game The Upgrade! does this, where partway through the session, you all play the executive board who gets to rant about how the season is doing and what they need to do to make the ratings better.

The abstraction tool is powerful for two reasons:

  • You get to talk in character, not as yourself. There’s comfort in removing yourself from the source of any critique or analysis.
  • You really think about how your game looks to others, which in turn means you’re thinking about how the game looks to the players who aren’t you.

Also, it’s just plain fun to talk about things like what animated GIF comes out of a given session. The PTA game we just wrapped up (“The Mantle,” think Charmed meets Supernatural) had took advantage of this idea. We’d even interject play or mention a meta-moment in between scenes—not a small number of these were memes about the characters or tumblr posts about our characters being CW-hot adorable. Those weren’t necessarily moments that flagged something we wanted more of or needed to further explore; just were another way we enjoyed the story we were telling while reminding ourselves that we’re using words to play out a visual style of storytelling.

So if it fits your game, I leave this to you as a tool you could use to further your enjoyment or get some neat discussion going.

–Ryan

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