So, how many video games can you remember that had the three act structure?

How many video games can you remember that used the first 10% of runtime for main character setup, like Michael Hauge suggests in his six stage plot structure concept?

I reckon even in a linear videogame, the typical runtime of more than 10 hours doesn't allow for the first ten percent being used to show us the main character in his natural, everyday habitat. Because that's over one hour! The expectation of most videogame players is to run and shoot stuff within five minutes, tops. That means, the player wants to be at least in what Hauge calls the "new situation" phase - after the teleporting device breaks, everything goes horribly wrong and the monsters start appearing! - after five minutes.

That's not even a noticeable percentage of most video games' plot time. They basically want the introduction out of the way and the monsters spawned, or whatever else the main gameplay mechanic is, almost instantly. There was a recent article at RockPaperShotgun demanding "Let us play!" in theatralic fashion, driving exactly at this - shut up, give me the shotgun.

Now I recognize Hauge's six stages are a reflection of Hollywood movies. These usually have a runtime of 90 to 120 minutes. But they're also based in the three-act structure, supposedly a common underpinning of all storytelling, so up to a degree the same should be true for videogames that tell stories, i.e. a lot of them. (It is also true for novels.)

So, how many video games can you remember that had major plot points at 25%, 50% and 75% of the runtime? How many games actually have the "major setback" plot point at 75%?

Very few. And here's why:

Because most videogame protagonists grow stronger over the game's course in a linear fashion. They level up, gain new skill points, find more powerful weapons. A game protagonist doesn't lose all that at the three-quarter mark. The gaming community collectively squeals if the designer takes away their weapons at some point in the game. The squeal will get louder if you take away skills or levels. At the same time, the more powerful the avatar gets, the less tension there is, because the game gets easier with the bigger guns, the super skills, the silver dragon scale armour.

What is 50% of the runtime anyway, in a video game? Imagine an open world game like GTA5 or the Witcher. It is impossible for the writer to know what quest the player is doing, at what point of the world the player is halfway through the game. The player may be picking daisies for 110 hours, for all we know. It's impossible in a truly open world game to predict this.

So between purely mechanical games and real open world games with linear skill progression, the three act structure falls flat on its face. A (mostly) linear game will do a better job at predicting where the halfway point is. But it will just vary massively.

I know I said that most video games are linear, because they have a beginning and an end. While that is the case, the writer cannot know how long the player will spend in between, and in what portion of the game. All we can do is guess.

So what do you make of this?