Saturday, March 08, 2008

Gygaxian Notes

So the DOW has punched back through the 12000 floor, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead I want to chat about Gary.

I think Gary Gygax would be pleased (or as pleased as one could be, considering the circumstances) with the reaction to his passing. The outpouring on the net and in the media has been astounding. When JRRTolkien died, it was a brief blip on the nightly news and an obit tucked away in the back of the papers. Gary’s passing has been everywhere.

Part of this has been the change in media itself, both with the fact that there is more “space’ to be filled in our 24/7 news cycle and the rise of individual reporting of blogs and web sites, many of which are manned by nerds, geeks, and wonks who at one point in their lives sat around the table and ran lawful good paladins (which, as uber-wonk Steven Colbert points out, is redundant). It has been an amazing sharing of when individuals first encountered the game, how it changed their lives, and the warmth they still feel for it.

A great fan obituary can be found here. And there have been a number of webcomic tributes, like here, here, and here. All in all, there has been an outpouring of feeling for the man.

The media has been reporting heavily as well – NPR, CNN, and BBC. The Seattle Times used the Washington Post obituary on their page 2, while sending a potential war in South America to page 7. The Post article messed up the number of kids Gary had by each wife, and badly mangled a quote by designer Mike Mearls, but in general got it mostly right. The BBC did an article of 5 things D&D made happen (Quick version - Online RPGs, Geek culture, Bringing fantasy fiction to the fore, Gaming panic (though concern about what the kids are doing did not originate in the 70s), and Polyhedral dice (which existed before D&D but have become part of the culture). I think the important one was keeping fantasy at the forefront, making the current fantasy renaissance in movies and television possible.

And he made my career happen, with the hobby game industry, with the increased interest in fantasy as a genre, and with laying the groundwork for the modern computer game industry. Why is WoW the way it is? D&D.

People are playing games this weekend and invoking Gygax as make their saving throws. But pay attention to the other founders and old men of the industry who are still with us, and pay them their due. Dave Arneson, co-founder and master of Blackmoor. Jim Ward of Gamma World, MAR Barker of Empire of the Petal Throne. And Kim Mohan, one of the quiet ones, editor of DRAGON for oh-so-many years and now editor at WotC, a line of continual experience for longer than I have been involved in the hobby. And even the creatives from my generation are all-too-mortal. Ed Greenwood and artist Larry Elmore have both suffered heart problems, Margaret Weis is a cancer survivor. Drop them a line, meet them at a convention, and just say thank you for what they’ve done (and in Ed’s case, give him a hug – Ed has no problem with hugs).

Now people are already falling into arguments over what Gary intended for the game and the hobby, quoting chapter and verse from long online correspondences. You can point to quotes by him supporting by-the-book adherence to rules and freeform play, encouraging both storytelling and immersive goals in roleplaying, and he was both supportive and critical of various editions. That’s part of the nature of who he was. While working for him I came up with the conclusion that game design was a conversation between creatives. The conversation is not over just because one strong voice has fallen silence.

Gary has an enduring legacy, and its going to do OK as it passes fully into the hands of younger generations. In short: The kids are all right, and I want to know what happens next.

More later,