Gary Gygax passed into the Astral Plane on March 4, 2008. He along with Don Kaye created the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons which was first released in 1973.
At first, many will claim little experience with Dungeons and Dragons or roleplaying games at all and relegate such experiences to the world of geeks and nerds. The truth being that Gary Gygax played a role not unsimilar to J.R.R. Tolkien’s role for injecting adventure and fantasy into modern culture. Simply the existance of such games pulled many to have tighter bonds with others, who often went on to found various technology, software and computer companies. We have all came to realize that the kids who weren’t cool in middle school are often the ones who are now writing our paychecks.
There have been several accounts of how Gygax has effected pop-culture on a whole, but for a moment I would like to thank him for how he changed my life.
I had a computer from a very young age. I always enjoyed various role playing games, although I didn’t know the history of role playing games. When I got an NES games like Zelda, Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy inspired various portion of my life. I began drawing the characters from the various games. I first heard of pen and paper role playing games through a poor description from another family member regarding something that a distant cousin of mine was playing. It was a terrible description and I got the sense that they thought it was silly, but the concept was intriguing.
Life went on. My friends and I made various wooden (and blunt metal when we could find a way to work it) swords, ran through the woods, and played our epic sword fights and fantasies. My father as long as I knew enjoyed and watched Sci-Fi/Fantasy movies and always enjoyed having someone to watch them with since the idea of sitting around for the greater part of a day watching Dune simply didn’t appeal to her. My first movie I saw in a theatre in fact was The Return of the Jedi. Apparently I screamed the entire time, but I was only a few months old.
I started playing Magic: The Gathering (WoTC would soon purchase TSR) not long after it was released with my friend Brian Rogers. I soon found other friends that were into playing, and carrying around our decks and playing at lunchtime quickly became habit during early middle school. The girls didn’t exactly get it, but that was ok. The administration didn’t seem to get it either. They tried to confiscate our cards at one point, referring to a rule in the student handbook that was intended to stop gambling on campus. We pointed to a definition in the dictionaries that we were told to have for English class that Magic cards did not qualify as a “deck of cards” (as the school rule pointed directly to) being a gambling device, since it neither had four suits nor contained 52 cards. Oddly enough they actually bought the arguement and left us alone. One of those things you didn’t think would get you out of trouble, but was worth a shot since what we were doing was harmless.
At some point shortly after I got it in my head that I wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons. Being in middle school the task seemed kinda expensive. Dice, various books, mountain dew. I had my Uncle David Glass drive my from his house in Maryland to Cumberland to a bookstore that we knew to carry it. They had some box set that I purchased, which almost immediately upon leaving I realized was an abridged set of the rules (although it contained a short version of all the major handbooks). We drove back and I exchanged it for a Players Handbook.
I will admit that like most people’s playing sessions when they were younger, we were pretty bad at it most of the time. We started a new campaign every few weeks as someone’s story got horribly broken or members of the group shifted drastically from time to time. The stories we told were grand and ambitious. None of us wanted to tell a simple story, and all of us bit off more detail than we could chew. Some people took simply forever to make characters. I tried a few times to program systems that would speed up character generation, but do it better than others had done it. Sometimes they worked, but still didn’t make the process go much faster. My favorite character of all time was a chaotic good Mage/Thief that didn’t reveal to the party for a while that he was actually a Mage. It was rather fun casting illusions to make the party do what I wanted, and they had no idea what was happening. The DM rather liked it too.
Later in High School it became a weekly event. One of my friends one day came up to me like, “Dude, there’s a girl that’s carrying a Players Handbook. Apparently she wants you to join her group.” A girl playing D&D at the time was kinda hard to find for me. We met and started playing weekly. First at a Books a Million store, then at my house. It was a pretty solid group and we had a great time. I actually started dating her not long after and she was my first serious girlfriend of any type (had dates prior, but nothing repetitive) for the remainder of High School. It was great.
I also tried other gaming systems with friends. I tried the Mage/Vampire/Werewolf games. They weren’t bad, but I really enjoyed the excessive level of detail that we put into playing D&D. Too much was abstracted in those games for my liking, and I never got into LARPs. I played Gurps a bit, but it just didn’t have the game flow.
When I got to college I played a few more times, but things faded off. I’ve recently met some people that are pretty into roleplaying and might give it a shot again (as its actually very social, not the opposite as most assume). One of them has even written their own game.
So where does this leave us, and why did this make my life better? I honestly don’t know what I’d have done with my life were it not for Gary’s indirect influence. I work (as a vague statement) in technology and computers. I wouldn’t have gotten into computers so much had I not been playing games. The games indirectly got me into music. Music and technology is pretty much my life. Even more important however are the social experiences I’ve had along the way. The people I’ve met have been excessively smart, fun, and all had a great sense of humor. Of course there’s a few people that were struggling socially more than others, but we all were! Having these friendships and interactions was amazing.
Additionally the exercising of the muscle of imagination past childhood has been invaluable. I think outside the box I suppose, and I think that’s because I never stopped dreaming. I never stopped thinking of where things could go, or about fantastic things. I simply cannot imagine my life without this.
This has been long, but I really wanted to publicly express my experiences with gaming and once more thank Gary for his influence, genius, and amazing work he did.