Did the headline catch your attention? Good. Because I've noticed an unhealthy obsession with plot, and I'm here to try and defuse that ticking bomb now that I've had some time to think on it.
The strongest moments in a role play come from interaction. It is the driving force of a role play. It doesn't matter if the plot is full of holes, crap, non-functional or whatever else have you. The most important element is interactivity. Interactivity in this case being defined as two characters creating a cycle of action and reaction which leads to action and reaction which leads to action and reaction, and so on.
When characters commit actions towards one another, and then react to those actions and create another action to follow up, this creates a theoretical indefinite cycle, only stopped when two characters cease their interaction. This can come about through a battle scene, through romance, through introductions, whatever else suits your fancy really. Coincidentally scenes which begin, continue, or culminate a rivalry, a romance, a friendship or otherwise are typically the most memorable moments one can have in a role play--because they came about with other people, others whom you can directly infer to the moment in question and have a moment of pleasant nostalgia about.
To make a long argument short: Interactivity is better than any plot in a role play because role plays are dependent on characters forming relationships--be they hostile, neutral, or friendly--to help resolve conflicts, overcome obstacles, develop themselves and others around them, and to make players feel a sense of belonging and loyalty towards one another. You could have a shitty plot with plot holes, and so long as the characters could navigate around the plot hole, continuing to interact with one another, they could easily circumvent what would otherwise be a killing blow to a movie or a book. Complex plots are even worse criminals for this because the harder a plot is to create, the more likely it will have worse and more numerous problems with it, and thus the more likely it might incidentally slow down interaction with character by throwing muddled crap in their way.
If you need examples, you can find them in basically all the most successful role plays on this site. Legend of Renalta, an RP I made, well; the entire plot can be summarized as "a pissed off fire-wielding princess goes for revenge against egomaniac Gods after being frozen for a thousand years." The Gods are often incompetent, bumbling, aristocratic morons and the princess took a solid six months to get a real personality beyond either dry aristocracy, "why me", or "grr I want revenge." She was as painfully Mary Sue as Mary Sue gets, really.
Yet the thing that kept that RP going--something I didn't understand at the time and stumbled on by accident--was the interactions of the characters with one another and with the princess. The princess gained more depth to her personality when she started forming relationships with those around her through repeated actions and reactions... Interactivity. This is important to note because the plot was garbage, the antagonists were literally retarded and the "awesome protagonist" was a walking, talking Mary Sue. Yet the story survived because of interactions.
If you want a less egocentric example, Kadaeux makes fantastic role plays. One of his best was Stellar Empires. To be absolutely blunt for a nation RP it was cumbersome, overly complex, slow, there wasn't even a fucking plot, and the system wasn't very balanced. You know what saved it? Player interactions. The players never stopped, their empires continually moved towards one another, fighting and exploring and colonizing all with the intention of working with or against other players. Interaction is what kept this thing going, presenting a whole pile of entertaining moments and memes that live on to this day.
Wait, not successful enough? Okay. Lets bring up ANOTHER example! From ANOTHER user!
Fantasy Nations, a nation RP that was run by Sarzu. Again, there was no plot at all. The only "plot" you could infer would be a few loosely affiliated empires on two sides: "Good" and "Evil". That's it. There's nothing else. It had no grand schemes of anything, it was just two sides kicking the shit out of each other based on arbitrarily drawn lines of morality. That's it. Guess what? It's one of the most successful nation RP's ever made on this site. Hands down. End of debate.
Wait! Wait you say! Those are only nation RP's and one you made? Well then, let me go on to more present examples of MORE RP'S!
The Library is a role play made by Kestrel. It's been going on for almost a year. The players in it are extremely active, and constantly RPing. I can't think of a time that The Library ever really slowed down. By the way, this is a casual-level role play that is kicking the crap out of most of the "sophisticated" advanced RP's featuring overly cumbersome and complex plots.
BUT WAIT! THERE'S EVEN MORE!
Glomp! Is a role play created by Kagamine. The entire thing can be summarized as "anime characters such as Naruto and Ash and whomever else duke it out against some evil megalomaniacs who want to destroy/capture/etc them all! Grr! Also fan girls and fan boys (Otaku) come to have connections with these characters and try to save them! Grr!" And that's it! I guarantee you because it's anime-based and taking characters from animated shows and manga it's going to have plot holes in it the size of Texas! And guess what? A casual RP about anime, which a lot of people on this site (especially in advanced) disdain, IS KICKING THE CRAP OUT OF 99% OF ADVANCED. Do you SEE that activity? That is an INSANE amount of activity. That kicks that crap of mine! The only thing mine has really is how long it's been going on! And from the looks of it, Glomp! Is bloody well endless!
Guess why it survives. Take a wild guess.
The characters (especially between Otaku and Anime characters) have ENDLESS numbers of ways to interact--and they do, endlessly--which means that no matter how bad the plot may get by literary standards, the role play remains a golden example of excellence and refuses to die because they never stop interacting. Another notable thing is the players and their absolute love for the damn thing. Nobody would invest that much time and effort to create that sheer number of pages of OOC unless it was really worth writing home about. And you know what? IT IS. Because no matter how ridiculous or goofy it gets, IT'S FANTASTIC! It continually entertains and makes everyone in it happy! The RP's gone private just because they can't take anyone else onboard, and the current members aren't leaving. Not a single one.
How's that for an impressive example of "plot is meaningless compared to interactions between characters and players alike?"
...But don't worry, THERE'S EVEN MORE!
Tenshi Jigoku Academy 4 is a BLOODY FREE RP! Made by OverlordRoo! It's a school-RP, that genre that has a massive stigma attached to it. Or at least it was when it started, I have no bloody idea what it is now. Lets be absolutely honest. If we're going to rate an RP's success by the length it has lasted, the enjoyment of the players, and how active it is, this RP is taking the cake. It's kicking the crap out of its competition in advanced.
Bloody advanced is getting the crap kicked out of it by a Free RP. Just because... They never stop interacting. They never stop being active. It doesn't even matter that the plot is as flimsy as it can possible get and is replaced multiple times throughout the story (as if it even really has one), or that the characters are so insanely diverse in power levels and depth. None of that matters. They interact, they remain active. That's why it succeeds. On a literary level, this thing would be catastrophically bad. Yet it continues to survive, and the reason for this is that there is no need for any real plot or characters with depth or consistency or anything along those lines. They're tools, they can flavour an RP, but they don't carry it alone.
An RP's main goal is interactions between characters, moving towards a general goal. This general goal can change all the time. The path to that goal can change all the time. The only thing that cannot be sacrificed is players having the ability to interact with one another both OOC and IC, and then non-stop interacting. I'm willing to bet most of them share instant messengers of some type as well, but I'm not going to bet any actual money on that in case I'm wrong. I know it's the case with me and my role players, but I can't make that assumption for everyone else.
There. I've got a whole pile of examples for you, of success stories, the majority of RPG's success stories... And that majority have awful plots, unstable characters/nations, and focus exclusively on interaction. If they have good plots now, it's a result of interactions and player interest driving it in that direction. The same applies to characters--player interest. It was flavouring on the meal, it wasn't the food itself.
Now... Anyone want to debate this, or comment about not having seen it this way before? I'll gladly debate in a civil manner.