Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A great inventor dies 

Gary Gygax, the man who invented "Dungeons & Dragons" and therefore the entire role-playing game genre, has slain his last dragon at age 69.

Gygax expanded the world for millions of kids -- mostly teenaged boys -- over at least two generations. Dungeons & Dragons is powerful imagination food; Gygax supplied the construct, but every dungeon, every world, every game is as different as the players involved. Today, those players are better and certainly more interesting people for the experience. Gygax had an enormous and rippling influence far out of proportion with his personal fame in life, so we will roll the twenty-sided die in his honor tonight.

Read my cousin's tribute.

MORE: Here is a very evocative remembrance of Gygax; it captures my own feelings almost exactly.


By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Tue Mar 04, 11:45:00 PM:

Pryor is in mourning. As he said, Gygax created the template for 50% of the computer games out there by translating The Lord of Rings for lay people.  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Wed Mar 05, 01:06:00 AM:

Truly a visionary on how you can create worlds from a couple of pieces of paper and some irregular lumps of plastic. Think I'll go thru my books tonight and remember 28 years of gaming.

Order of the Stick has a tribute too.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 03:00:00 AM:

Have to respectfully disagree here TH. A little fantasy (whimsy if you will) and daydreaming here and there is fine, but the appeal of games like Dungeons & Dragons (to most) is that they offer an escape from reality. As a result, kids become more and more introverted, and I'll contend less tolerable or engaging to others.

There's simply too much to do in this world, and too little time in which to do it, to spend one's often-prime years engaged in things that are, in their complexity, designed to simulate real life. But they're not real, and the rewards are fleeting and hollow. Getting off-topic here, but I think you'll see more and more of this as the internet and interactive technology in general becomes a greater force in people's lives. I think it's telling that most of these guys will put away the 20-sided dice when they start interacting with the opposite sex.

I guess what I'm trying to say is I won't be making any gifts to his memorial fund.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Wed Mar 05, 06:37:00 AM:

Well, Anonymouse (3:00 AM), I think there is some truth in what you say about computer games, which can be both obsessive and isolating. That is not at all truth of face-to-face Dungeons & Dragons, though. It is an extremely social activity that drives the participants to a very high level of engagement. Everybody I know who played D&D back in the day or more recently in my son's generation made friends, shared interests, and learned important things about each other.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 09:03:00 AM:

The first computer fantasy game was "Adventure" from 1976. It was developed by Will Crowther at BBN.

We had it at Princeton . . .


By Blogger niall, at Wed Mar 05, 09:51:00 AM:

Anonymous, whatever you're describing certainly isn't the D&D that I'm familiar with. As TH noted, it is an extremely social activity. And as for dropping the dice upon discovering the opposite sex? Well 3 kids later I've got a regular Sunday game and similar holds true for most of the guys with whom I play. Sure it is an escape from reality, but the same holds true for playing golf, watching football, reading a novel, watching a play, and many other activities which don't seem to merit nearly so much disapprobation. Let go of the stereotype of the pimply, socially-retarded kid in the basement.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 10:46:00 AM:

With Niall and TH. In Sierra Vista, AZ, there is a game store (that is, role-playing, miniatures, and such) run by a retired Green Beret NCO. He has bits of North Vietnamese memorabilia and a bunch of pictures hanging on the wall behind the counter. Hardly the stereo-typical game dork. Neither, for that matter, am I.

"I think it's telling that most of these guys will put away the 20-sided dice when they start interacting with the opposite sex."

My wife plays. Explain that one.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Wed Mar 05, 11:10:00 AM:

I found that my D&D playing picked which began in the 5th grade in the 1970s picked up again in college in the late 1980s. Largely with very interesting women at Bryn Mawr who knew their way around medieval weaponry and were able to converse in Old English. I assure you it was most social. I also picked up my single malt habit during this period.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 11:21:00 AM:

Anonymous has let mass media shape his perception of reality.

Maybe it is different in Los Angeles where a significant number of Dungeon and Dragon players work in Hollywood as actors. Role playing is often elevated to a high art by people who study how words work and what motivation for a character truly is. Where dungeons are not rough scribbled notes scratched out in a basement but are typed on a word processor in script form, by someone who writes TV scripts for a living, while his latest girlfriend helps him with the villain's monologue. I attended the OrcCon convention in Los Angeles over Presidents Day weekend with my 3 sons and three of their friends. They played soccer and basketball together growing up, and slew a few dragons. Now four of them are still in college, and two are police officers who graduated near the top of their class.

They may not be tolerable to others (criminals really don't like this bunch) but they have learned to be tolerant of others and our home is filled with shelves of books on science, geography, fantasy, science fiction, criminal law and history.

I remember watching them play soccer, but when we played games I got to participate with them on an equal footing. I wish all parents could have the same experience.

In Dungeons and Dragons the Dungeon Master describes the scenario, and the players work together to solve the puzzle, find the treasure or escape the trap. The better the players cooperate, the better their chance of riches and survival.

Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Steve Jackson and all the others helped a few generations learn that if they think a play or movie had a stupid ending, they can always write their own script, and a lot of them do.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 11:57:00 AM:

Equating fantasy with mere "whimsy" and "escape from reality" is a long, tired canard that only gets sillier with the passing of years. Anonymous is like a guy looking at Orwell's ANIMAL FARM and saying, "A bunch of animals? What's the point? When are you going to grow out of animal stories and read PLAYBOY?"

D&D wasn't designed to "simulate real life," it was designed to fire the imagination and fiercely engage the intellect, two things that all people could use a lot more of. It's one of the few truly joyous and gratifying social activities for people of a certain age and emotional makeup. These longstanding attempts to brand it, in the face of all evidence, as anti-social, damaging, destructive, even Satanic, is a form of cruelty that says far more about the accusers than the accused.

Thank God for Gary Gygax, a man who understood this and who helped free the minds and hearts of millions of people from the stultifying boredom and "fleeting and hollow" anti-intellectualism of the Anonymous grumps of the world.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 01:13:00 PM:

I guess I just view these types of things as basically a form of masturbation. Gratifying, but in many ways hollow because there's nothing tangible to be accomplished by playing them. A kid picks up a sport, learns an instrument, gets a hobby or what have you and they develop a talent that they can carry with them through their life. The rewards of games like this don't exist outside of the game itself; call it an over-simplification if you must, but in all my experience with this type of thing (and I have a lot of it), I don't feel like I actually got anything out of it, or was rewarded in such a way that made the time I put in worth it.

Nothing wrong with a little escape now and then, but I feel a lot of people get into things like D&D (or video games, the internet or whatever else) for the wrong reasons and it ends up becoming a destructive force in their life. Not the majority, not even a sizable minority, but a fair number nonetheless. Most of the respondents to my post seem to be normal, well-adjusted people, and that's great, but most of the people I've encountered in my day-to-day life who are really into video games, science fiction or whatever else usually aren't. More often they have trouble relating to and interacting with people in real life, so they turn to other avenues of social interaction that allow them to shed all that they find uncomfortable about society. This is becoming a major problem in more technologically advance countries in Asia; young people especially are becoming increasingly detached from the real world and immersed in a digital one. It's something to be mindful of.

On a different note, I nominate this for the "I thought it was from The Onion" Inappropriate Headline of the Week Award:

"D&D cocreator Gary Gygax now beyond scope of healing spells"  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Wed Mar 05, 03:29:00 PM:

If role-playing is to be equated with masturbation, Anonymous (1:13), then it is of the mutual sort. Recreational rather than procreative, perhaps, but neither hollow nor intangible...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 04:09:00 PM:

Anonymous is trying to debate something he know nothing about...
"The rewards of games like this don't exist outside of the game itself;"

Quit frankly, he is wrong.

Skills which role playing games enhance:
Reading comprehension, public speaking, fast thinking, creative thinking, blueprint and map reading, computer usage, research, math, statistics, history, geography, ecological science, sportsmanship. That is the short list.

Many of the people who play role playing games are underachievers. Most of those would have been underachievers if they never played.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 07:02:00 PM:

Anonymous says: "The rewards of games like this don't exist outside of the game itself."

What, pray tell, is the reward for reading a novel? Watching a film? Playing a game of chess? Making love without procreation? Visiting a museum? Acting in a play? Posting in the comments section of a blog?

Answer those questions, and you'll know just some of the tangible pleasures and real benefits of role-playing games for those who play them. As I said before, your position is fundamentally anti-intellectual, even cruel. It's devoid of any empathy for anyone not just like you in circumstances, desires, and emotional makeup.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Mar 05, 10:37:00 PM:

"Skills which role playing games enhance:..."

My wholly unusual scope of knowledge about medieval warfare, armaments, and society is owed to my gaming. Heh.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Wed Mar 05, 11:25:00 PM:

Tolkien noted, commenting on the critics who disdained fantasy because it was about escape. "What sort of person is most worried about escape? Jailers."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 06, 12:55:00 AM:

This argument is verging on the ridiculous. There is not a single thing I do in the course of my day, or have done in the course of my life, that did not do me some good, didn't vaguely enhance some semi-useful skill, or didn't give me some kind of new and different perspective on life. That doesn't mean anything though.

As I said, there's nothing wrong with this stuff in moderation, but I feel a lot of people are attracted to this because they have trouble interacting with and relating to society as a whole. And yes there is a social element to it, but I still feel it's inherently an anti-social enterprise because it's centered on adopting a false persona that exists in a fictional world.

Still, I guess there are worse things 15 year-old kids could be doing. Sorry for the generalizations. Could you all cast a spell of forgiveness on me?  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Mar 06, 06:18:00 AM:

OK, Anon. But first, take three drops, no more or no less, or the purple fluid in this flask, and put them on the tip of your tongue...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Mar 06, 09:44:00 AM:


geeks! Get a life!  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Thu Mar 06, 11:17:00 AM:

The Accountant's Tale, for Anonymous-

Bob, a 9th level accountant, snapped on his +3 Smartphone of Personal Time Sapping and girded himself for battle. He knotted his Red Power Tie of Ruthless Conformity and downed the first of 47 Starbucks Elixers of Wakefulness.

He made journey to the Dungeon in the HOV Lane of Moderate Celerity with Jane, a 4th level executive assistant whose one prime power was the ability to bar the gates to the Inner Sanctum and misdirect incoming missives, and Steve, a 10th level securities trader with Chaotic Neutral tendencies.

Along the way they fought an Intercepting Roadhog and deflected its Signaless Cutoff power with a blast from Steve's Middle Digit of Road Rage. After overcoming a fearsome Grimacing Gridlock and the Labyrinth of Limited Parking, the team fought their way into the Dark Tower and fanned out to explore its passageways and cubicles.

Bob failed his 1st saving throw and was waylaid by an Odious Boor at the Watercooler of Wastefulness. By the time he had wriggled free there was no way to avoid the Staff Meeting of Eternal Damnation by Feigning Work.
A vampiric HR High Priest promptly cast an area affect spell on the entire conference room with her Stultifying Power Pointless Presentation and drained them all a level.

Two hours later with nothing accomplished, Bob realized he would have to redo his daily quests that night to maintain his position in the Accountants Guild. He was now 50,000 points away from advancing to Level 10, when he would finally have access to the Infernal Audit Spells and be able to use the +4 Vorpal Laser Pointer he had found while adventuring in the Supply Closet of Otherwise Obsolete Technology.

Just then, his Laptop of Superior Web Browsing was assailed by a devastating Swarm of Spyware. He cast Firewall and his +2 Armor of Antivirus absorbed most of the attack.

Unfortunately, he failed to detect the stealth power of a Rogue NSFW Bot which plastered his screen with images of Janet Jackson's Wardrobe Malfunction and this attracted the attention of a Wandering Monster: the dreaded Hostile Workplace Accuser with its powers of Limitless Umbrage!

There was nothing to do but destroy the Offending Item lest it bring about his doom, and soon after smashing the laptop to the floor at the feet of the fiend, Bob was strapped to a gurney and on his way to the Ward of the White Coated Mind Probers. "This is what comes," thought Bob ruefully, "of solo adventuring. Next time, I'm bringing along an 11th level attorney in a Suit of Wrongful Termination. We'll see how you like that, HR Hellspawn!"  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Mar 07, 02:23:00 AM:

Anonymous says:
"I still feel it's inherently an anti-social enterprise because it's centered on adopting a false persona that exists in a fictional world."

Fictional persona...you mean like when someone hides behind "Anonymous" in order to post nonsense on a blog?

OK, once again for the slow kids in class: Is reading a novel anti-social? Watching a film? Playing a game of chess? Making love without procreation? Visiting a museum? Acting in a play? Posting in the comments section of a blog?

Role-playing games are no more anti-social than any of those things.

Anonymous also says: "Hahahahahahahahaha....geeks! Get a life!"

Losing your cool merely highlights the threadbare nature of your fictional persona's argument.  

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