Don Quixote and Modular Storytelling
On the art of blending gameplay with interactive narratives
Recently, I finished reading Character Development and Storytelling for Games by Lee Sheldon. The author has a long history of working both in the games industry, as well as in television and fiction — enabling him to draw directly form his own personal experience in a variety of mediums.
Sheldon’s book provides a significant amount of interesting detail about character creation (roles, traits, encounters, etc.) and the ways in which games differ from other storytelling mediums. He uses examples from a variety of sources, including classic literature, film, and television, as well as games, in order to provide evidence for the theories on storytelling, theme, and structure that he presents. He makes some interesting connections between these different mediums. However, sometimes his chapters are so heavy with references (many of which I’ve never heard of) that I sometimes found it somewhat overwhelming to process the lessons he is trying to impart.
My copy of the book was the first edition, published in 2004. While discussions of character and story are everlasting, when the book speaks about the future of games, it sometimes felt a bit out of date. Apparently, a second edition was published in 2013, which likely provides a more modern perspective and up-to-date cultural references.
Regardless, one section in particular presented me with a new way of thinking about story — namely, modular storytelling and how it can help blend gameplay and story into interactive narratives. And I was surprised to learn that classic literature could provide an early example of this kind of structure.
What Don Quixote Can Teach Us About Modular Stories
First published in the early 1600s, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes is considered by many to be the first modern novel. The story satirizes chivalric romances (such as the stories of King Arthur’s knights), with the titular Don Quixote being a confused gentleman who rides out with his servant Sancho Panza (a simple farmer) in quest of adventures. His adventures, such as they are, involve Quixote believing he’s living…