Friday, March 07, 2008

Gary Gygax, RIP

Gary Gygax is dead.

I still can't wrap my head around that. Gary, father of the game, mentor to a generation of nerds, is gone. I've been feeling totally bummed out about it since Wednesday. My childhood neighbour passed on a week earlier, and it didn't affect me in the slightest. But the death of Gary, who I never met, has genuinely touched me.

Now, it would be wrong to say that it feels like I've lost a member of my family, or a close friend. That would be a complete disservice to what Gary's actual friends and family are going through right now. I was thinking about how I felt yesterday, and it struck me that what I'm experiencing is similar to what happens when one of my favourite characters dies in a story.

Because that's what Gary was to me - a character. (Bear with me here.) I didn't know him as a person, but through his works I knew him as GARY GYGAX, Dungeon Master supreme, foe of player characters and kindly mentor of beleaguered referees everywhere. This was the guy who designed the Tomb of Horrors - how could he be but a mere mortal? He was larger than life, he WAS D&D.

And not only that, but the influence that Gary had on popular culture is staggering. Just think about how many people right now are playing games based on his work. Everyone playing D&D, everyone playing Magic: The Gathering, every single person logged on to World of Warcraft. They're all playing Gary's game, in one form or another. Add it up over the years, and it must be millions, maybe even billions.

To put it in perspective, in comic book terms he's Stan Lee. In rock and roll terms, he's Elvis Presley. Everything in fantasy gaming draws from Gary's imagination on some level. Even in terms of fantasy fiction, there's a mere handful of authors who've impacted the genre as much as he has. Few people outside the hobby know his name, but I can guarantee they saw his influence at some point.

Although I never met Gary in the flesh, I was lucky enough to trade a few posts over the message boards with him. It's so cool that he made himself accessible, answering page after page after page of questions. And to him it was just conversing with fellow gamers. Gary placed himself among us, not above us, and that's a genuine rarity for celebrities (which Gary was, at least in gamer circles).

The influence he had on my life was strong. I had already made my foray into fantasy gaming before I found D&D - Fighting Fantasy gamebooks had taken over my life by that point. But D&D was a far more profound experience, and better yet a shared one. To this day I feel closer to the friends that I gamed with than I ever have to those I didn't. Coincidence? Probably, but the many fun afternoons (and frustrating rules arguments!) with my friends are some of my most treasured memories, and I have Gary to thank for that.

I desperately wanted to game this weekend, but none of my friends are available. So, my contribution to worldwide Garycon will be a solo expedition into the random dungeon generator in the back of the AD&D Dungeon Master Guide. It's a poor substitute for gaming with my buddies, but we must make do.

So goodbye Gary. I didn't know you, but I miss you. The game won't be the same with you gone.

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