Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died today. Just 69, but he’d had health problems for a long time. He leaves behind a legacy that’s far stronger and more important than the non-geek world really understands, I think. D&D, and the gaming worlds that evolved from it, were hugely influential on generations of kids (true, mostly boys) who were learning how to imagine and interact with the world around them. Yeah, it was wizards and thieves and +5 Holy Avenger swords, but these games were (and are) a kind of collective, improvisational storytelling that at their best rise easily to the level of art, and at their worst trains the imagination and analytical skills tremendously well.
My coauthor Brad and I began our history of video game culture not with anything digital, but with Gygax and his co-inventor Dave Arneson working out the rules for D&D, because we believed (and still believe) that the kind of collective, face-to-face, immersive-world gaming they created was as or more influential in the history of video game communities than anything Atari ever created. Gygax was generous enough to spend hours on the phone with us. He was just as you’d expect. Kind of grumpy, but eager to talk about the origin and lasting legacy of the game he’d created. Which still surprised him.
He was the protogeek, a tabletop gamer who wanted to tell stories and infuse ordinary reality with a little magic. He and Arneson succeeded.