A meta-technique is a loose term encapsulating various rules and narrative tools/practices which are carried out by players rather than characters but still part of the improvisational flow, such as the meta room, the monologue, and shadows. The term started gaining in popularity and use in 2007, during the preparatory work with En stilla middag med familjen, and in talks and workshops the following year at Solmukohta 2008.
The exact definition of meta-techniques has been hotly debated, the usage varies in scope and clarity across the board. In the broadest usage of the word it covers nearly any game mechanic in a Nordic Larp, while another usage put meta-techniques as a direct opposite to game mechanics. One clearer definition of meta-techniques states:
Communication in the game - between the players and not the characters or additional story that doesn’t fit in to the game time and space continuum
The defining meta part comes from the way in which the techniques willfully breaks the flow of the direct immersion to provide information directly to players, without going through their characters. What constitutes a break in immersion is one of the more central disputed areas.
Three level model
One usage divides game mechanics into three levels: Replacement rules, abstractions and meta-techniques.
Replacement rules are when a concept in the fiction is replaced with or simulated by something else. I.e. a boffer sword replaces a real sword. Sex is simulated by neck-massage. The player and the character experiences the same thing differently.
Abstractions are when the metatechnique itself is immanent in the fictional world. I.e. In this world latex is deadly and boffers kill or there is no sex, but Ars Amandi fulfills the same functions. In this, the experience of the character and the player are the same.
Meta techniques in this definition are not experienced by the characters, only between players. It is an event taking place completely outside the continuity of play.
Intrusive versus discrete meta-techniques
The off-game character of metatechniques means that they can easily interrupt play. Some are very easy to hide or can be used away from other players, some are performed by one or more players during the game and some require the entire game to stop while they are implemented.
The same technique can even be used across the whole spectrum, to use the monologue technique as an example.
A 'discrete way to use a monologue would be that the players involved to go to the meta-room when using the technique. This means that only the ones that choose to use it will see the effect and if they don't want meta in their larp, they don't have to seeing.
Discrete techniques are often used in closed spaces and managed to not not interfere to much to a 360° illusion
If a monologue would be used as an intrusive technique it could as an example be in for of the ping the glass method. The method works out in a way that you request a player to express the inner thoughts of their character by pinging or touching a glass they are holding in their hand as in the larp New Voices in Art. The player then starts holding a monologue making everyone close by listen and noticing what is going on. It is hard for a player to choose not be affected by the action of an intrusive technique because it is something that you almost instantly would notice.
Intrusive techniques can make big gaps in a 360° illusion.
Purpose of meta-techniques
The reasons for using meta-techniques is most often to provide players with information they would not be able to gather while playing their characters. This could for example be information provided by other players about their characters, directions from a gamemaster or additional story outside the game's time and space. The ultimate goal of the this is commonly to increase the emotional energy of play and increase the dramatic potential.
Meta techniques and player preference
Meta techniques are a hallmark of tabletop play which requires narration and abstraction for the in-game events and elements to be represented. Play styles derived from larp often encourage greater resistance to the use of meta-techniques since they may provide a break from and a contrast with the experienced story. Play derived from tabletop play can be more robust and fluid in the presence of meta-techniques. Player preference may be related to common or first exposure.
Meta techniques used to increase the drama of a larp are sometime called Dramachanics which is short for Dramatic game mechanics.
Presentation about Meta techniques and the use of them through The Mixing Desk of Larp by Petter Karlsson at the Larpwriter Summer School 2013. The first few minutes is a presentation and demonstration about what a meta-technique is.
A technique that give more information about the story events to the players than they get through the experiences of their characters.
Communication in the larp between the participants when the same thing is not communicated between their characters.