Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Game that Lives: a Eulogy for Gary Gygax

I was stunned by the news yesterday that Gary Gygax, one of the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away. March fourth, the gamer geek holiday known as GMs Day. How appropriate. In years to come it won't be just GMs Day, it will be a day to remember the man who brought this iconic game, along with so much fun and thought, into our lives. Partly I was saddened by how little I knew about the man. Never met him, had no idea he was sick, or that he had a wife or children or anything. No, for me, it was all about the game. I don't think he would have minded a bit. D&D is not made for people who have to be in control of the message or the situation. It's a great big party of a game where laughter is as much a part as strategy, character building and interacting with friends old and new.

So, this is not really about the death of human being, but a life well lived and millions of lives affected, whole genres reinforced with the butresses of games that challenge the mind, in a world that just wants to keep us dumb. I can't be sad for long when I think of all I've gained from this man's work in my life. From the age of about twelve, I was captured by D&D. The drive to read and understand the rules strengthened my critical thinking abilities. Kant and Hume weren't that tough after working through the combat rules of AD&D. And the vocabulary... Sure I was a smart kid, but I'm pretty sure the words I learned from the DM's Guide got me into the "gifted" classes at school. I was gifted all right. Gifted with a cool mom who read The Lord of the Rings to me as a child and let me spend my allowance on gaming books with words like "initiative", "primordial" and "thaumaturgy". The skills I learned as a player helped me in drama classes, in creative writing, feeling confident with math, and gave me a peer group I am still very proud to be part of. As a DM I had to learn how to manage a meeting, prepare an outline and stick to it or roll with the punches when things got whacky, how to deal with obnoxious people in the group, and how to wrangle people with busy schedules into a room for some challenging, humorous times. All these skills have served me well in my working life, particularly by giving me a sense that any problem can be solved if we only think hard enough and work smart enough.

I am not a religious person. As much as sentiments like "He's gone to another adventure" appeal to me, I would be false to myself if I repeated them. No, to me the true magic is language and art and music. Words. Writing is magic. And it is in his words, his thoughts, the game (and all its children) that will be played for generations to come, that Gary Gygax lives on.

Tally ho!

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