According to the Associated Press, Gary Gygax, most noted for being the co-creator of the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, died Tuesday morning in Lake Geneva at the age of 69. Gygax’s claim to fame brought many fans of the game to his home in Lake Geneva.
My memories of Gygax are indirect but not trivial. As a teenager, I was introduced to the Dungeons and Dragons my freshman year in high school. On weekends, my friends and I would get together to play out the latest adventure one of us had made up qua being dungeon-master. Yes, I was a geek, but by finding a group of teenagers who also valued imagination and creativity over conformity, I was able to find my own niche of supportive comrades. Throwing a d20 over chips and dip while listening to a story about how our band of adventurers were going out and conquering over skeletons, fire dragons, ogres and orcs gave me that boost of confidence I lacked – Even if I was the only girl my age who wanted to play the game.
When I moved onto college, I took the game with me. I introduced boyfriends and friends alike to the caverns and monsters Gygax had helped to create. I participated in all-night adventures over beer and pretzels. We created characters outside the scope of Gygax’s own imagination – a green half goat half man who liked to dance whenever the fancy struck him, a solipsist illusionist mage whose main power was convincing other people they didn’t exist, and an ugly woman who shape shifted into a sexy cat – and battled monsters in the various realms our collective imaginations took us to. Once again, the game allowed for bonding and good times.
In graduate school, almost everyone I knew in my department played Dungeons and Dragons. The game provided ways to get out and socialize with the rest of my cohort. While determining saving throws against poison traps and battling giant spiders and amber golems, we would laugh and commiserate over the stresses of advanced degrees, papers, comprehensive examinations, teaching and other daily parts of graduate student life.
My son has also been introduced to the game. As a youngster, his mind fills with the possibilities of going through this tunnel rather than that one, of talking to the Innkeeper in a rude tone, in combining efforts with members of the adventuring party. In this way, Gygax lives on – through the legacy of his game. The game has provided him with opportunities for creativity (sometimes I catch him drawing sketches of his own dungeon), self-confidence, co-operation (after all, you have to participate with the other game players, and with the various people you might meet around town.) Creativity is not the only skill enhanced. Thanks to Gygax’s genius, reading skills and math skills are also quite important when it comes to playing the game.
While Gary Gygax has passed on, his creation lives on. Dungeons and Dragons has spun off from that game that was played solely with pen and paper. With video games, a line of miniatures, and the new basic set, the game Gygax created back in the seventies is evolving to appeal to a new generation of players.