A story can divided into three acts that work in more or less the same way from story to story to story. This is not a controversial point of view. And honestly, it had not occurred to me that the idea of dividing story-games likewise into three acts would be particularly controversial. Until, that is, the comments started to come in on The Mamet Post.
Ted Braun, the professor of screenwriting who taught the advanced script analysis course I took at USC, was always very careful to use the phrase “division into acts” rather than “three-act structure” when talking about dramatic structure. In considering the question of acts in games, I remember why.
It’s because when you say “three-act structure,” it makes it sound like you’re talking about a blueprint. But division into acts should be much more a diagnostic tool than a blueprint, best used to figure out why a particular story (or game, I argue) smells like ass.
Before going any further, let’s talk specifics: How are these three acts best defined?