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Reflections and thoughts

March 5, 2008

I unplugged last night from everything.

No Internet.

No writing. Nothing.

I pretty much sat in my chair, read and thought.

I thought about gaming, game design, my love affair with this hobby, and more importantly the event of watching my childhood Gods die.

Three deaths hit me the hardest before yesterday: Steve Gerber, Tom Snyder, and Lloyd Alexander. When I wrote in those posts that I was gutted, I was. Those three individuals were such a large part of my life. I grew up as a Army Brat and I found myself in new towns on a regular basis. Military children, in order to survive, look for things to latch on to. We do so in order to survive the sudden changes that being a military child entails.

No one, and no creation, helped me too survive more than Dungeons & Dragons. It was my doorway into a place I could call home. As my physical surroundings changed, the surroundings of my imagination was constant. It was this constant that enabled me to deal with each new move–which always happened in the summer the day after school got out–without having friends.

It was my in. My way to meet new friends at each new “hometown” I found myself in. More than that, it was Dungeons & Dragons that kindled a raging fire of curiosity leading to my life long love affair with reading. The first time I picked up those strange dice as a impressionable eight-year old I was hooked. More than being hooked on games and gaming, I was hooked on reading. I wanted to know more about history and the fiction influencing a game I loved.

Back in those days what we knew about Gygax was what we read in the pages of Dragon and the forwards of the hardcover D&D books. When you are young, and when you live in a age without the ready access to the Internet, the stories that are known now, did not exist. Rereading his old “Sorceror’s Scroll” columns last night, I was struck with the passion he had for this game and this hobby. This passion, did not diminish with age.

When exactly I knew I wanted to design games, I cannot tell you. Yet, it was the likes of Gygax, Arneson, Bledsow and the rest of the “Old Guard,” that showed me you could design games. So design I did. It was my hobby, much like my friends (who I did meet after settling in a new “hometown”) who liked to fish, play baseball, collect baseball cards, and the like. For me games and game design were my hobby. The bulk of those early games were done for my, and my friends, enjoyment.

“You cannot design games as a job,” my parents liked to tell me seemingly forever. Hell, when I had to go through the interview process to obtain the rank of Eagle Scout, one of the adults asked me what I wanted to do as an adult. My response was simple. “I want to design games.” In return I got blank stares, and told I was being silly. I refused to listen to this. I am glad I didn’t. It is my love of this hobby, that drove me, and still drives me to this day.

I have been lucky in many ways.

I use to work for Dave Arneson and got to talk with him and learn from him. I also got to meet some of the original Blackmoor players. I have meet a lot of people who I consider to be friends because of gaming. I got the bug to design games. I got the crazy idea to form my own company with James. All of this I owe to Gygax, because if it was not for him, this hobby, that we know and love, would not be possible.

One of my most prized gaming possessions is a GenCon 1985 program book signed by him. Through the years, and with every move, this book has been with me. As I purged the library and game library before each move, it is the works of Gygax that I have kept.

What is the mark of Gygax’s transcendence?

When non-gamers and non-geeks knew who he was and knew what he did. Though Ariana does not game, she is the wife of a gamer, and she knew how the passing of Gygax was going to hit me. My in-laws, whose only concept of gaming is traditional board games like Monopoly, knew who Gygax was. Hell, as I write this, Tony Kornheiser talks about the passing of Gygax on his morning radio show.

Gygax, was a giant.

Period.

His influence reverberates through the culture. James Wallis said it best, when he wrote:

Now, at last, we can forget all the crap he did later. Even if he only had one moment of genius, it’s such a moment of such genius that it instantly elevates him into the very highest echelons of game-design greatness. His work built not one but two industries—how quickly would computer games have moved out of the arcade without the likes of Colossal Cave?—a genre, and a language of shared experience in fantastic worlds shared by hundreds of millions of people.

Gygax.

Few people can be known just by one name.

More than that, Gygax showed us how to harness the power of the imagination and forge worlds that exist only within the mind’s eye.

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