The ability to structure plots is not an unimportant skill in storytelling. For instance plot reveals character. When an audience can see within context the sort of things certain characters will think or do and how that changes through time, then an understanding is formed of those characters. Creators having a grip on the tools of plot within the digital medium can more freely explore theme and character. However, plot is not all there is to storytelling, it exists in part due to its relationship to these other elements.
Plot tends to get overemphasised as the premiere element of storytelling to the exclusion of other elements because, critically, it is one of the most quantifiable elements. Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces [Cam93] delineates the typical plot for the hero myths of patriarchal, agricultural societies. Vladimir Propp thoroughly outlines the plot structures for Russian folktales in his Morphology of the Folktale [PtLWD69]. Some claims have been made that these works represent the monad for all possible plots. I find this unlikely when considering the diversity of life experience, and the many ways those elements of life experience can be organised into a story. That is not to say that broad generalisations cannot be made about specific genres, but they are merely generalisations and do not account for the myriad and yet significant variations on plot. Equally significant to a story is its theme, characters, setting and the aesthetics of their presentation. And some of these are the elements that often remain most underdeveloped in story based computer games.
Plots are important. But they are not what makes you read a book. If plot was all there was to it, it would be enthralling to have someone tell you the plot of a book you haven't read. And having someone tell you the plot of a book you haven't read is hardly ever enthralling. Think of some people who have a knack for telling a joke well, while someone else can tell the same joke and it falls flat. The difference isn't the joke itself but how it is told. What transforms a plot into a piece of powerful writing is design: not the events themselves but how the events unfold.
Kate Grenville [Gre90, p. 142]
Copyright © 1997 Katherine Phelps