12/03: Gary Gygax, legacy of fame or shame?
Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away recently at age 69. This has been generally regarded as a fairly tragic event, except for this guy, who pretty much goes off on Gygax and D&D in general.
I don't have much of significance to say that hasn't already been said, but it has been such an integral part of my life that I do feel it bears comment.
I don't personally lionize Gygax as the creator of all fantasy or the perfector of role-playing as a genre. I have never really believed that the "first guy" to make a concept successful is necessarily either the true innovator, nor irreplacable. Look at the history of people like the Wright Brothers or Henry Ford and you'll see what I mean. Sometimes it's just a matter of hitting the timing right, or sometimes its inventing or implementing something else; something seemingly secondary; that makes the new concept or idea the real success.
I also certainly do not make Gygax out to be some kind of moral poison. Saying that Gygax is somehow to blame for the moral failures of our world because its fun to throw our usual morals to the wind and hack up a bunch of orcs and steal their juicy booty is just silly. It's a game, people. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times... it's a game. If you cannot see that doing that in real life would be a problem, than you have no business walking free on this planet, let alone being allowed to play potentially violent games. Gygax has spent his life being blamed for people's foolish actions and activities, though, so I see no real reason why this would stop now.
I really can't see making Gygax out to be some kind of pariah to role playing games and fantasy either. Some would harken him and his creation to a Microsoft of the RPG world. This gigantic juggernaught that crushed everything that would dare compete. This is patently foolish. If anything, D&D was crushed under its own issues and was well into its death throes before Wizards of the Coast saw fit to pick up TSR in a sort of "Child saves the grandfather from death" kind of arrangement. Since Wizards is a fine example of a company that likely was spawned directly from inspirations of D&D, and in the end was all that saved D&D's ass... well, you figure it out. I shouldn't have to draw you a picture.
Still, there it is and there it remains. Gary's creation (co-creator, yes, but for the sake of simplicity, we'll call it his). Since being revitalized and essentially re-written from scratch, D&D continues to be a significant player in the RPG world and remains a significant influence in so many things that we deal with today.
For my part, and I believe for most people who consider Gary's passing a sad event, that is where the loss is truly felt.
I bow my head in sorrow for the passing of a man who inadvertently thrust a pretty silly and nerdy activity into some kind of simmering sub-culture; a sub-culture that eventually managed to poke its roguish head out into day-to-day life in a way that has become somewhat socially acceptable, and even bordering on remotely (maybe) cool (ish).
I also bow my head in sorrow to a man who made it possible to drift away from the unpleasantness and powerlessness that most people in the world are reduced to, and allow them to cathartically hurl an imaginary 12d6 fireball into a crowd of oh-so-deserving dopplegangers.
I lament the loss of a man who has unquestionably affected a lot of people's lives, spawned whole industries, and paved the way to credibility for so many things that we enjoy today that may not have been otherwise viable. He opened up new worlds and popped the cork off of imaginations.
Could he have been the only one? No, probably not. Could others have done it better? Possibly. But would they have done it first? I'm not sure, but does it really matter?
There is no question the impact that he has had on my life. In 1979 I experienced AD&D for the first time. My mother still recounts the tale of my coming home, excitedly yammering about throwing flaming flasks of oil at people and realizing, in horror, that she needed to call the neighbors and apologize... offering to pay for any damages. It was so vivid of an experience to me, that simply recounting the story to my mother led her to believe that it was something that I was actually doing in a real and physical way, when in truth I was just telling her about this "really neat game I just played with a bunch of dice and some books". That is real impact.
To this day I consider it among the three things that has effectively shaped everything that I have become as an adult today. The books I read, the people I talk to, the movies I watch and of course the games I play... they all have a significant root in that single day way back in 1979. I got a taste of that world, and I just wanted more. I wanted to immerse myself in it as much as I could because it was just so very cool.
Regardless of morals, regardless of quality, regardless of anything... having a single human being have that kind of impact on any one life is compelling; let alone having it on thousands... or millions. There are undoubtedly millions of stories just like mine, and probably just as many freaked-out mothers.
I shall personally remember Gary Gygax's passing in sadness, as I enjoy the influences his contributions have had on so many of the things that I deal with in life every single day. How you choose to remember him is, of course, up to you.