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I Want More Plot, Father - Eric Johnson
I Want More Plot, Father

Originally published at Words and Thoughts. Please leave any comments there.

There have been a couple of instances in recent memory where I’ve heard players talking about how much plot they have (or don’t have) in a LARP they’re participating in. This isn’t an uncommon complaint for a player to have, but my experience has been that it’s generally an inaccurate complaint that gets bandied about because the player is unable or unwilling to address the real problem. To be clear, I don’t think this is (generally) malicious, but it’s still a topic worth some discussion. And so, without further ado, “plot.”

To begin, it’s important to understand what plot is. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the plan or main story (as of a movie or literary work).” That’s a fairly serviceable definition, so long as you don’t fixate on the term “main” too much, as even a 22-minute sitcom generally has an “A” plot and a “B” plot. Additionally, plot is generally driven by conflict (man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self). So, in a campaign LARP it’s possible for there to be dozens of plots in play at any given time, each a a diferent point along its narrative arc. (I use “campaign LARP” here because of the idea of staggered plots, as most one-shot events have plots that are meant to last the whole event.) I don’t think any of this will be particularly new or surprising to anyone, I just want to make sure that everyone is on the same page before we continue.

Having done a bit of work to define plot, now a question arises, “How do you measure it?” Honestly, I don’t have an answer to this. The chief problem with attempting to measure plot is that so much of it is ephemeral — “suffers a crisis of faith” is a perfectly real plot, for example, but it’s primary form of interaction is within a player’s head. Even in more traditional plots it’s only practical, and often feasible, to track progress at a very high level (generally from interactions either with writers or that they are present for, or from following public discussions to gauge information flow). Additionally, “quantity of plot” is difficult to track for oneself as an individual — in my experience it’s almost impossible to do for anything you’re actively involved in; meaning that it’s easy to say “I (or he) was in those plots” and even “He is currently in these plots,” but much more difficult to say “I am currently in these plots.” What this all comes does to is that plot is, by itself, an awful metric.

If plot is a horrible metric, then what can be used in its place? I can think of two: boredom and frustration. Really, these come down to two related states of mind: “there’s nothing for me to do” and “there’s nothing I can do.” Trying to recast a plot problem into these terms is useful, it helps break the issue down into more concrete areas and also helps to suggest solutions. If boredom is the primary issue, then the question to ask (of yourself or of a writer) is “What else should I be doing?” If frustration is the primary issue, then ask “How should I proceed?” If the problem is a combination of the two, then it’s probably worth taking a bit of time to figure out how the elements are interacting with one another. It’s also possible to have these issues multiple times; Plot A & B can seem to be at dead-ends while Plot C seems unapproachable. Breaking things down to that level of granularity is going to be extremely helpful in resolving issues — the more you understand a problem the easier it is to fix.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a third factor that, while not really an independent axis like boredom and frustration, can be a very real catalyst: jealousy. It’s easy to look out at other people and imagine what a fantastic time they’re having, especially if you’re having a less than ideal time. The only thing I want to say on the topic is this: talk to them. They may actually be having an awesome time and unaware that you’re having an awful time, in which case they well be able to help you have a better time. Alternately, they may not be having a great time at all, and you’ll find out years later that you’ve isolated yourself by putting others up onto a pedestal that wasn’t there. (For what it’s worth I’ve personally been guilty of this.) To make a long story short, don’t fall into a jealousy trap, communicate.

Looking back over what I’ve written so far I’m realizing that a lot of this could be reduced to just an argument for personal responsibility, although I hope that’s just me selling myself short. Anyone who’s known me for a while knows I’m a big advocate of terminology (”diegetic” or “locus of control,” anyone?) , and I think another part of this can work just as a push-back to our love affair with the term “plot” (while hopefully bringing up some useful alternative terms / ideas).

But I digress — what does anyone else think about this? Are these sound ideas or am I full of it? Let me know what you think in the comments.