There is a lot of argument in the gaming world about the place for "story" in RPGs. My very first post on this blog concerned plots in RPGs. Lately, I've been thinking about emergent storytelling.
Emergent storytelling, as I see it, is where stories develop over time, with no clear end in sight. Rather than being like a joke that is a setup to a punchline, it is instead a serendipitous rambling, that only in hindsight seems to have some sort of story structure.
I am not a big fan of this type of storytelling. My annoyance with it is not limited to RPGs, but rather tends to be focused on television shows that start out well, only to fall apart after a season or six. I think one of the biggest offenders of this was LOST. One of the biggest mysteries of all was introduced in the pilot... the Smoke Monster. Come to find out, no one on the creative team had any idea what it actually was. The final explanation for it turned out to be less than thrilling.
In television, emergent storytelling happens as a result of real life interfering with the creative process. A pilot is written and filmed, but no one knows if the show will be picked up, or how long it will last. In this day and age, any single episode can wind up being the last, as a show is pre-emptively cancelled. I recently watched The Event on Hulu.. the whole first and only season of it... only to find out that whatever The Event was, we never got to see it.
I am currently in the middle of the 4th season of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix. The episode I just watched was written just prior to the writers strike of 2007/8. The show has been awesome thus far, but I have the feeling that some parts of the story are going to be majorly screwed by the time this is all over. I was reading a bit about the writing of the show, and the notion of the "final five" didn't even occur to the creator until the third season. I ask myself... how rewarding is this payoff going to actually be?
Maybe it is a hopeless dream that a show would be conceived all the way through, start to finish, before the first scene is ever filmed. I realize television series aren't movies. But I do like events in a story to mean something. I am currently hoping there is a reason two planets share the same observable constellations.
But sometimes, in TV and RPGs, the whole is less than the sum of the parts.