Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Goodbye To The Master Of Dungeons

When I was in fourth grade, my mother gave me a new game. I remember it well. I thought this was a strange game, since it had no board, no colorful pieces, or anything electronic. It was a game where you were supposed to play pretend, but you didn't dress up or run around. Instead you looked at maps and rolled dice, and you were supposed to talk all the way through it. And you couldn't play it alone.

The game was Dungeons & Dragons.

"How very odd," I thought. But the dice were all sorts of odd shapes, you played a character that interacted with and fought mythological beasts, and there were all sorts of complex rules and statistics to deal with. Even the cover of the box was fascinating, with a picture of a dragon on a pile of golden treasure, about to engage in battle with a wizard and an archer.

The budding geek in me was instantly hooked. I quickly found a neighbor kid to play with, then other friends, and by the time I was a teenager I was a pro, spending all-night D&D sessions with friends and pizza and laughter, populating our imaginations with elves and dragons, dwarves and warriors, wizards and kingdoms. The fantastic world I created for those games became the fantasy world I write fiction in today.

If you are an American under the age of 40 and work in some technical field, I'd say there is a higher-than-average chance that you enjoyed this game in your youth. And, if so, there are pretty decent odds you still play it when you get a chance, or some other role-playing game or video game spawned by the revolution that game created.

And it is all due to the vision and creativity of two men, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, in 1974.

Sadly, Gary Gygax died today.


The article says that he died at home, in Lake Geneva, and had suffered a number of ailments. He was 69.

But I prefer to believe that his hit points ran out. He may have been at 100th-level, but you only have so much armor class to go around!

When Gygax and Arneson developed the game, they drew upon some previous wargaming experience and merged it with role-playing, a heretofore psychological technique of imagining yourself in someone else's shoes to better understand their way of thinking. Except instead of pretending you were your dysfunctional relative, you instead imagined yourself as a heroic medieval fighter or wizard. Cool!

Derided by evangelical fundamentalists as the spawn of Satan, or heralded as the King of Geeks by teenage boys with glasses, Gary Gygax was certainly the father of role-playing games, giving birth to an entire class of games and game systems.

More importantly, though, he has inspired several generations of children with the power of imagination, the effects of which have certainly gone beyond the realm of medieval role-playing and into the innovative spirit they carried into their careers, as I have.

He hosted role-playing games right up to January of this year. He is survived by his wife, six children, and seven grandchildren. Hopefully they are enjoying their patriarch's legacy as much as I did.

So, Gary, thank you for your inspiration. It's been fun.

In his own words, "Games give you a chance to excel, and if you're playing in good company you don't even mind if you lose because you had the enjoyment of the company during the course of the game." (source)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to unsheathe my +8 Pen of Creativity, strap on my Armor of Imagination, and go do some fantasy writing. And, yes, there will be elves involved!

Addendum (3/7/08): On an almost-unrelated note, check out this webpage for the “Goblin Defense Fund”: http://www.goblindefensefund.org/main.html.

Addendum (3/9/08): Cartoon: Gygax versus Death: http://xkcd.com/393/.

Image taken from HERE, where you can also find a great interview.


Anonymous said...

Angry, are you fiction texts available anywhere? I'd love to have a look at them.

Angry Lab Rat said...

Thanks for asking, Anonymous. My books are not yet published, but I'll be resubmitting one in about a month. Sword and Sorcery (Tolkein-esque) - oh yeah. I've had some short stories and poems published, including online, but none fantasy-related. I'd love to share, but I'm shy about revealing my name here. So I'll leave you wondering.

simplethymes said...

I've been curious about your fiction work too, since you're such a good writer! But it's okay. I'm more of a non-fiction person anyway, so I might enjoy your blog more :D

unsigned said...

Poor guy failed his saving throw.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)

Anonymous said...

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