R.I.P. Gary Gygax

It's all over the web's blogs and other news sites today. I love what other people are saying about Mr. Gygax, and how he helped change the gaming industry and our modern culture. I'd like to add something about how he changed literature. He was an extraordinarily sucessful publisher and author, who helped design an entirely new genre of writing. It's a participatory genre, where the author provides the landscape, props, antagonists, secondary characters, and general plot; and the "readers" provide the main characters, the dialog, and the specifics of the plot.

Many people have commented on D&D's obvious connection to The Lord of the Rings. Somebody has even gone to the trouble of portraying the film trilogy entirely as the results of a roleplaying campaign. LotR set the fantasy world on fire, with a rich setting and detailed plot that really engaged readers. It was an adult fantasy that invited readers to question their own morality and their own determination. "Could I, as weak as Frodo, have made it to Mordor?" "Could I, as strong as Boromir, have resisted the ring's song?"

D&D provides an opportunity for average people, from a people who seldom have adventures, to experience adventure on a personal level. Now the game still controls a lot of elements of the story, but that's why it's a game. Later roleplaying games remove much of the luck and place the story firmly in the hands of the GM and players, but D&D was the first game to immerse players in story to even the level it did.

Dungeon modules are plot outlines. D&D rules are storytelling conventions. Mr. Gygax helped define this genre. He helped found a publishing company for this genre, and he produced dozens of works within it. That these works affected gaming and culture is interesting, but that is not the full extent of his work. He was a successful author by almost any measure. Literature has been changed.

2008.03.05 at 12:30pm EST