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"Sometimes I miss the old Pac-Man storytelling method. Eat pills, avoid ghosts, that's it."
Yahtzee in Zero Punctuation on Bayonetta

Most media have some kind of setting. A world, a time, some characters, maybe some Backstory... but not here. There's only one thing for you to see or do here. No frill, no fluff. Most often seen in Retro Gaming, originally due to programming constraints but now mostly for style in the Casual Video Game. When used in video games, the main reason for not having any story or characters is generally because the player's not going to be interested - the Casual Game is meant for pick-up-and-play while waiting for the bus or something. Expect Rule of Fun to be invoked, and often. This is a trope that video game producers may have to consider more in modern times, as nearly every modern game is expected to provide some form of story instead of just pure gameplay.

Since this is used so often in video gaming, let's not list every single example, just genres, notable exceptions, or inversions. Or specific references to this in other media.

Not to be confused with No Plot? No Problem!, a handbook guide to the very popular (Inter)National Novel Writing Month contest.

Compare Excuse Plot, Porn Without Plot, and High Concept.

Examples of No Plot, No Problem include:


Film

  • Deconstructed in Tron: The games played at Flynn's gaming hall are this trope in the physical world, but once you are inside the Grid you discover that these simple games are surrounded by all kinds of drama.
  • Shoot Em Up has only a handful of scenes dedicated to plot, and is not ashamed in the least about it. They take place in a tank and right before the protagonist jumps out of a plane and kicks a mook into a helicopter. Any other ones are merely short dialogs before sex or more shooting (or both simultaneously).

Tabletop Games

  • Chess, Checkers, Go, and other ancient board games.
    • In an interesting aversion, Chaturanga, the precursor to modern chess, has a "setting" in South Asia (presumably India) and is named for a battle in the epic Mahabharata.

Video Games

  • Casual Games in general, because people want to play the games. If they wanted a story, they would pick up a book, or watch a show, or -since video games are just as much a valid medium as print, television and films are for both storytelling and simple fun- they could even just play some other game that has an actual plot. Besides, most casual games have such abstract rules and mechanics that any attempt to explain it all would just get in the way.
    • However, Hidden Object casual games almost always have an elaborate plot.
  • Driving Game: Track Mania, San Francisco Rush
  • Puzzle Game: Tetris, Bejeweled.
  • 4X games sometimes let you slip into a historical or fantastic scenario with a little scene-setting to kick things off, but for the most part, it's "Here's your starting units and basic knowledge, now go make something happen."
  • Rhythm Game: Beatmania, Pump It Up, Dance Dance Revolution.
    • While not directly related (or related at all) to the game, the characters in DDR do have backgrounds, though this is most likely an Excuse Plot for the pairings.
  • Shoot'Em Up: Space Invaders, Asteroids, Geometry Wars
  • Fighting Game: While the manuals may contain some Backstory for the characters, gameplay itself generally consists of nothing more than beating the other player up. Otherwise it can be tough to make excuses for why every good guy wants to fight every other good guy.
    • The Super Smash Bros. series didn't even have an Excuse Plot until Brawl.
    • The first Chaos Faction game had no plot whatsoever other than, 'just beat the crap out of your opponents.' Chaos Faction 2 had a miniscule subplot revolving around the Big Bad, Vortigon, returning, but it too focused much more on the actual combat, other than the stage-specific scenarios.
    • Once in a while, some franchises also have plotless installments, also called Dream Match Games. This allows them to return fan-favorites who for some reason can't return in canon games.
  • Platform Game: Rayman Origins is probably one of the best recent examples. Other than a brief mention that the world is in danger, you joyfully go jumping around musical instruments buried on a desert, glaciers floating in strawberry juice and a giant mexican kitchen.
  • Simulation Game: Most simulation games often emulate real-world places. However, there are exceptions:
    • Many "resource simulation" games, like Sim City or Rollercoaster Tycoon, will begin with a blank slate.
    • For Crush, Crumble, and Chomp!, the whole point of the game is for the player to smash everything in sight. The closest thing to a plot are the cities, which only have a passing resemblance to their Real Life counterparts.
    • The Wide Open Sandbox of the X series easily outshines the games' plots as the main attraction. The developers even included a gamestart where the plots are disabled (though the Custom Start is intended more for testing mods than actual play).
  • First-Person Shooter: multiplayer maps are usually nothing more than arenas for players to kill each other. Single player campaigns have varying levels of plot.
    • Team Fortress 2 is notable for its success without any single-player component at all for years, until the introduction of a single-player training mode in 2010. An ever-expanding story that went from the Excuse Plot of "Two corporations run the world and employ mercenary teams when they need to apply force" has expanded on the TF2 website to forge personal links between the characters and create an Alternate History that includes bitter dispute among the powerful family behind those corporations, Australia becoming a world power through mastery of Unobtainium and gravel. None of all this has any bearing on the game itself, which pretty much remains plotless.
  • Halo's multiplayer maps avert this. They are Canon.
  • Dwarf Fortress. You could pick up on enough procedurally generated history to assume your own plot and come up with a purpose for your fortress or adventurer, but it isn't necessary for most and doesn't change gameplay itself.
  • Strangely averted with Devilish/Bad Omen for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It follows the fate of a young couple who have been cursed...to transform into paddles and be used in a breakout clone.
  • Aerobiz: Justified as the goal is to start and expand an airline.
  • Minecraft's basic plot is "Wake up on a island. Punch some trees." Notch has however said that he wishes to include some type of plot in the game later.
    • Make whatever you wish from the NPC villages, strongholds and abandoned mineshafts.
    • Now there's a general structure to the game with a long sequence of tasks necessary to "finish" the game. First you learn to make wooden tools, then stone tools, then iron tools, then diamond tools. Then you use the diamond tools to build a portal to another dimension called The Nether. Then you find a Nether fortress and kill a bunch of blazes for their powder. Then you combine the blaze powder with Ender Pearls dropped by Endermen, and use the resulting item to locate a stronghold and activate a portal to another dimension called The End. Then you slay the Ender Dragon. Technically, all this is just an optional side quest, and the real objective of the game is to have fun, whatever that means to you.
  • Spore doesn't have a story in the main game when you take your creature from the five game modes, and there will be no conflict that can build up as a plot (well, things do happen in the creature stage and you can fight with animals, tribes, cities and empires but it still doesn't add anything to it).
    • Some users actually thought outside of the Core Spore aspects and gave their races a backstory and their creatures do things that weren't possible in the main game.
      • This trope somewhat counts in Galactic Adventure because some user-made adventures have an arcade feel to them and only focuses on gameplay, while most of them do have a plot.
  • Castlevania: Harmony of Despair abandons all plot so that players can pick one of several heroes of the franchise. Some of which are centuries apart in the Castlevania timeline.
  • It is anyone's guess why the knight in Trigger Knight is running through a field, beating up monsters, with a limited amount of time before she fades away.
  • Star Ruler has: Conquer the galaxy. With no hint of plot, just set up a game and take over the galaxy.
  • Dustforce doesn't have anything resembling to plot. Only cleaners and locations needing to be cleaned.
  • SD Gundam: Capsule Fighter, created for the entire Gundam franchise, virtually has no plot.
  • Crackdown doesn't have a plot. It has a premise. You are a super-soldier cop, you are thrown into a city full of gangs, and your mission is to kill as many of them and their leaders as you can, evolving into a stronger, faster, higher-jumping cop as you go.
  • Almost every Eroge in existence is subject to this, what with being simply masturbatory aid. Notable inversions are Sharin no Kuni, Kana: Little Sister and everything made by Key.
  • Wrecking Crew is two Palette Swapped brothers walking around demolishing walls while a foreman and some monsters try to get in their way. Not even the manual tries to explain why.

Web Animation

Other Media

  • One Xkcd strip jokes about making a real action movie.
  • The Falling Sand "game" isn't really a game- different types of sand falls. That's pretty much it.
  • Sean Malstrom's argument is that all video game plots suck, so video games should pretty much just do away with it all together. He has even given Metroid: Zero Mission an awful lot of flack for having an unacceptable number of cutscenes. Said cutscenes, combined, don't even clock in at anywhere over five minutes.

Examples of inversions

  • Tetris is given some kind of plot in this movie trailer and possible explanation of its inner workings.
    • This should not be confused with Tetris being a plot, an anti-Christian, Soviet plot as seen in this important documentary.
    • Tetris Worlds gave it a shot by turning the Minos (the blocks that make up the iconic Tetriminos) into Animate Inanimate Objects, came up with the idea to have the Matrix (the Tetris game area) take place within "Tetrions", devices which serve as gateways to other planets that can be opened by playing Tetris, and made the plot out to be the Minos using the Tetrions as a means of exodus from their soon-to-be-doomed home planet called Hadar 4.
  • Minesweeper is given the movie treatment.
  • Pac-Man's Backstory is imagined to be an astronaut hallucinating the ghosts of his fellow crewmates and ravenously eating anti-anxiety pills.
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