Michael Fiegel, a gent who formerly worked on the late, lamented Gods and Heroes, has up an article in the Escapist magazine this week. He's turned his talent on a piece comparing the epic tales of yore with modern quests in Massively Multiplayer online games. From the shortest kill or collection quest in World of Warcraft all the way up to the Odyssey or Illiad, he argues that they all outline a formula.
Fiegel examines this formula, noting the basic structure, the outline that every quest has. In his conclusion, he notes that ultimately these formula, this storytelling shorthand, is done for our benefit. As 'once upon a time' puts the audience in the right frame of mind for a fairlytale, dwarves, elves, and mages are all hallmarks of the familiar modern fantasy.
It's interesting to think of the possibility that this might work in reverse someday in the future. Perhaps the 'you are the hero' nature of online gaming will one day influence the nature of storytelling?