Hey, no problem.
I think there’s a place in the middle here. I think a lot of what we’re discussing is what Bogost wouldn’t call narrative or plot, but would call something else entirely. One of the things he’s trying to focus in is this idea that plot, written by a writer, and delivered, and to use your own example, put on a napkin, isn’t worth telling, at least in a game. He even puts it as bluntly in the article, stating
To use games to tell stories is a fine goal, I suppose, but it’s also an unambitious one.
A lot of what Ian says, throughout a lot of his body of work, is that systems are what matters, mechanics are what matter, and the things they represent and present to us is what is truly important. So, there’s definitely this duality in this argument, where his tone indicates he sees narrative as fundamentally valuable, but his argument is that story is small fry, and we should be reaching for something beyond it, because video games are uniquely positioned to go beyond it, in the sense of a self discovered “plot.” He’s arguing for the organic stories that come from EVE, or the experience of walking around in The Witness, are what video games should truly be about.
It’s a noble goal, but some people want to just bounce around a rust belt town and talk to one animal on one day, and then the next day talk to a different animal entirely, and that’s the stuff that requires plot. I feel like the biggest thing Ian forgets is choice. His main crux, for why video games are bad at telling stories, is
The whole way through, I found myself wondering why I couldn’t experience Edith Finch as a traditional time-based narrative… The story is entirely linear, and interacting with the environment only gets in the way, such as when a particularly dark hallway makes it unclear that the next scene is right around the corner.
It ends up feeling like he’s conflated all games as linear, and asking “Why not just make this a TV show?”
In an effort to distance video games from narrative, he ended up saying “Why not just tell stories another way, because, frankly, video games suck at it. Video games should stick to their lane.”
He simultaneously erases the voyage of walking as something being its own story, but also ignores the circumstances of people who just want to tell a story in this manner, and comes off as ignoring contributions of marginalized people, as @PW_Shea has pointed out.
Ian’s presentation of this argument is what ultimately defeats something that could have been seen as insightful, that doesn’t come off as attacking narrative, but embracing a synthesis between even the simplest mechanic of choice, and narrative. It’s sort of what makes it all the more frustrating, because I entirely see the flaws in his arguments and see where he’s needlessly offensive, but at it’s core, there is something interesting about embracing mechanics and systems as a method of delivery unto itself - which I believe is more the plot that would be present inside of The Witness, EVE, or a grand strategy game.