By Marc Porto   

Meta, in terms of role-playing games, is usually a pretty dirty word. It usually refers to using out-of-character information to make in-character decisions. It kind of breaks the spirit of the game, so it’s pretty universally frowned upon. However, I’ve found a different use of the term metagaming that is way more fun, and can provide some really cool and interesting ways to dig into your characters and learn more about them.

In 5th edition Shadowrun, the magic-infused, dystopian future has progressed and the Matrix is now a wireless ‘internet of things’. It doesn’t really resemble the technical aspects real world internet but more of a conceptual representation of a different way for computers to interact. (To be fair, it’s kinda like magic. Just like the real internet.)

In this crazy new Matrix, the really well protected information is hidden within the ‘Foundation’ of a host (server). If you want to crack it, you have to go on what is termed in the fiction as a Deep Run. You enter the server via virtual reality and your cyberdeck, and then you find and crack your way into the Foundation. Once you’re in there, things get weird…

For starters, Foundations throw out so much data and your brain can’t process it like the rest of the Matrix. So, to save your precious neurons, your brain takes the stimulus metaphorically. Kinda like a dream. But this dream can fight back. Since your consciousness is fully in the domain of the Foundation, it has complete control, and it’s looking for things that don’t belong. So if you start to act ‘out of character’ for the metaphor, it will hunt you down like the Agents from the other Matrix (the movie).

shadowrunmetaSo, if you don’t want to get your brain fried by the Foundation, you better act like you belong. Yes, your character has to pretend they are someone or something else. You are playing a person, who has to play another person. That’s awfully meta.

But if you want to try and do it right, you have to think about how your character perceives this ‘game’ that they are playing. How their life experiences color the way they understand things and the way they react to things. The same way our own life experiences color the characters that we choose to play. I think it’s kind of an interesting thought exercise. The concept of taking players and making them contemplate their characters existence can do really interesting things for a game. Primarily it can help the group to build more well rounded characters, and to explore more about the ‘why’ your character does what they do.

I like this concept a lot, and it’s probably something I’ll work into my other games periodically. The format is tricky, because this application is specific to their setting. But if you’re playing in a world with magic, anything is possible because “the rules” don’t really exist.