The sole purpose of storytelling is not mimesis, at best a story evokes select memories from personal experience. However, storytelling can give definition to people's experience. As artificial as plotting is, it still serves a useful function in organising information into a conceptual whole. Readers may then agree or disagree, like or dislike, the results, but they are only held by that experience for so long as they choose to participate in engaging their belief.
With digital storytelling, though the audience is given certain choices on how to traverse the plot, they are not in fact given all choices. In the end people come away with a sense that a plot was in place, something that brought the experience to a conceptual whole, without the stories fulfilling the traditional definitions of plot. Therefore, these definitions need to be re-examined with a less fragile definition emerging.
My table "What is Plot?" draws from a number of the well known historic and contemporary definitions of plot. After spending some time with these definitions and comparing them with my experience of a range of digital narratives, I have come to what I believe is a hardier definition:
Plot is the system of inter-relatedness amongst states, events and sapient actors, and the process of revealing this inter-relatedness such that the story proposition flows into a conclusion.
The primary seed for a story from the perspective of plot is that something has happened or changed. A number of different things went into and resulted from this something happening or changing. Finding the relationships amongst these things and deriving meaning from them forms the core of the plot. The process of plotting is complete when the creators of a story then find a way to express and reveal these relationships, so that the audience comes to similar conclusions.
The creators of Myst [MM93] start the audience with an introduction to the story and set them into a pre-conceived and pre-arranged universe. Though the audience does a lot of omni-directional roaming the resulting plot is:
Each element of Myst has its specific time when it can be logically revealed and will not be revealed before such time. In proceeding through different navigable stages each revealing a particular system of events and/or states, the creators maintain a sense of being there and plot. Myst would not be a game if it relied on a rigid system of ordering for the plot. Myst would not have a plot if there were no ordering at all. As Nelson Goodman puts it in his analysis of plot:
Although every narrative will survive some reordering, and some narratives will survive any reordering not every narrative will survive every reordering. Some stories when reordered in certain ways are no longer stories but studies.
[Goo81, p. 111]
Copyright © 1997 Katherine Phelps