July 27, 2010
As a Tolkien-devouring pre-teen in 1980s England, I experienced an epiphany when I heard about a game in which you could don a cleric’s cloak or paladin’s plate mail and run around pseudo-Middle Earths looking for treasure, beating up orcs and doing whatever the hell you liked. This liberating thought-experiment-with-monsters-and-dice was Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing phenomenon that spread like wildfire around a world of youths who didn’t yet have a web. Without the ludic vision of D&D’s creator, ERNEST GARY GYGAX (1938-2008), there would be no Second Life, no World of Warcraft, no Grand Theft Auto, no Prisoner of Zelda, no Multi-User Dungeons and no LARP. Gygax was the Galileo of gaming who took the restricted paradigm of the turn-based parlour game, shifted it several hexagonally mapped forests to the east and stood it on its head. Gygax continued working on his beloved D&D right up until he died; and the list of spin-offs and sidelines that gushed from his colossally creative consciousness during his 40-year reign as master of the dungeon masters is endless. Gary Gygax, whose Swiss surname sounds like a fantastical, mountain-dwelling beast that you might find in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, is remembered and revered by many as the grandfather of non-linear games. But I will always remember him as the man who taught a lad of limited imagination how to imagine.
ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Joseph Mitchell.
MORE FANTASY ON HILOBROW: CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM series | 65 Fantasy Adventures | Mervyn Peake | Lord Dunsany | H.P. Lovecraft | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Ursula K. LeGuin | Michael Moorcock | Gary Gygax | Clark Ashton Smith | Frank Frazetta | George MacDonald | John Bellairs | T.H. White | Wilkie Collins | M.R. James | Edgar Allan Poe | Lewis Carroll | Mikhail Bulgakov | Guy Endore | Alasdair Gray | Maurice Sendak | Tove Jansson | L. Frank Baum | Roald Dahl | Abraham Merritt | August Derleth | William Hope Hodgson | Madeleine L’Engle