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posted by [personal profile] cathyr19355 at 10:20pm on 09/04/2009 under , ,
Some of you will remember my post on Gary Gygax, one of the co-founders of D&D, when he passed away last year.

Now his partner, Dave Arneson, has passed on. I feel a bit more inclined to mourn his passing, somehow. I like Rick Burlew's tribute to him in the latest Order of the Stick comic.
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cathyr19355: Stock photo of myself (Default)
posted by [personal profile] cathyr19355 at 12:34am on 08/03/2008 under , ,
I have been reading, with interest, and more than a little bafflement, various tributes to the late Gary Gygax; some written by my friends, and others written by strangers that I've happened to read on the Internet. Why am I baffled? Because I'm not sure where all the praise in these tributes is coming from.

I was in college when the first wave of D&D's popularity hit. I played weekly, for awhile, in a D&D group with [ profile] esrblog (a frustrating experience, as the group had nearly a dozen members and, because I was a first-level character, I never got to do anything). And I heard people complain. Regularly. About the problems with the system. About the enormous numbers of D&D guides and handbooks he published that weren't much good, just to turn an extra buck. And about how the system needed overhauling long before it received any, and how the overhaulers should have done a better job than they did.

I've heard it said (by [ profile] esrblog, among others) that his real role was in merchandising D&D, that his partners, particularly Dave Arneson, did most of the real creation of the system. I don't know where the truth lies on this front, nor do I care.

I do know that, within a decade or so, other people invented similar types of systems that did what D&D did...better. Chivalry and Sorcery. Empire of the Petal Throne. GURPS. White Wolf. The dungeon crawl concept was translated to the computer as Adventure, Rogue, NetHack, Zork, and probably other variants of which I've never heard. Still later, other people took the concept of D&D, married it to improv theater, and invented Live-Action Role Playing, a type of game I like much better than I ever liked D&D and which I still play when I can.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sorry to hear he's gone. I hate to hear of the deaths of anyone whose works I've grown up with, if only because it reminds me all too painfully that all flesshe is grasse and that someone will be writing my obituary soon enough.

But to me it makes no sense to honor Gygax as fallen geek hero. Even if he had invented D&D alone (which it appears he did not) he did what he did possibly because it was fun, and possibly because he thought it would sell. He certainly did not set out to change the world, or to make life more interesting, even though he ended up spreading memes that have done so. If you believe the Times Online obituary, he found Tolkien boring and didn't give a "hoot" about hobbits.

The tributes bother me, I guess, because they seem pointless, if not exactly hypocritical. Even if he deserved all the praise he is now getting, where was it all when he was alive, and people were bitching because D&D, and later AD&D, was such a mess? Where was the tribute for creating a new type of game while all of TSR's competitors were improving on what D&D did? Why save it all up until now, now that he's finally gone where no human praise can possibly affect him anymore?

Maybe none of that matters. Whatever his faults, and whatever D&D's faults, Gygax spread a new meme, and a good one. D&D, its successors and competitors, are his monument, and they are a much better monument than any belated obituary thoughts could possibly be. They have certainly have had a lot of the kind of positive impacts on geeks, and geekdom, that the tributes to Gygax all cite. Clearly the good Gygax did will not, for once, be buried with his bones.

There is one Gygax tribute that I actually like, because I think it honestly reflects what I know of the man, and what the world saw and said of him during his life. It's Randall Munroe's tribute in today's xkcd comic. "Oh Jesus, he's getting out another rulebook." Indeed. That's a view of Gygax that I can readily believe.
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