What if? Here we’re talking about the idea of playing in a sandbox or something like that. But maybe you’ve brought a Main Quest in…anyway?
But say in video games like the elder scrolls series, some people play them and never engage the ‘Main Quest’. They play, do the things they want to do – and those things they do are, by dint of the player just wanting to do those things, the Main Quest! Then they stop playing or they stop playing that character and start the game again with a new character, happy either way. And whatever was the Main Quest as intended by the designers becomes a side quest. And more than that – a side quest never done!
Could players take over the steering wheel on what is important?
But you made it about saving the world, didn’t you? So they can’t just ignore your Main Quest, for if they do, the world blows up and destroys everything they did – ie, it destroys everything they found important. So it’s just a waiting game – the players can mess around with their Side Quests for ages – but they have to get to your Main Quest eventually, or doom all their side quest accomplishments to destruction. The steering wheel is firmly in your hands. It’ll just be awhile before you can turn it.
Or what if we avoided ‘save the world’? And a campaign finishes on what the players found it important for their PC’s to have completed or attempted to have completed?
But what do players find important for their PCs to complete? Do the PCs have any goals the player has made up for them?