Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Alea Iacta Est: Ernest Gary Gygax ( July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)

For geeks like me, today is a day of great sadness. E Gary Gygax, co-creator with Dave Arneson of the Dungeons and Dragons game, died this morning at his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

As I wrote, it is a sad day for me. After all, this man created a game that provided me with untold hours of entertainment, a game that introduced me to great literature (and horrible drivel), a game that helped me form life long friendships. Because of this man's creation, my life (and many others) were made better and more enjoyable. My prayers go out to Gary's family, especially his wife Gail.

Surfing the internet today and reading people write about Gary has been a very nice experience. It seems that today is the day when no gamers are fighting. The grognards and the noobs are consoling each other for the loss. It's nice, if not a little surprising. As one might guess from reading Matt Forbeck's entry on the topic, Gary Gygax was a bit of a controversial figure within the gaming community. Not because the community wasn't thankful for his contribution, rather because of his disdain for others in the field and his temper at those who continued his legacy. Gary didn't really like others "improving" on his creation. To be fair no one would expect him to, but those of us who have moved on from Gary's truly original creation to later "refinements" have had to endure venomous comments from Gary and his most ardent admirers. To be honest more from the admirers than from Gary, but Gary gave his share as well.

It seems that every gamer worth his or her salt has a Gary Gygax story, and I envy those that do their stories. I have no "when I met Gary story." Instead, I have a when I "almost" met Gary story.

You see...last April I was on a trip for work in eastern Wisconsin -- Racine to be specific, and I decided I wanted to do two things. First, I wanted to watch a baseball game in Wrigley field. I am a huge Cubs fan, and there is no better place to watch baseball. Second, I wanted to tour Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the birthplace of gaming in America. Trust me. Whether you play modern boardgames, video games, collectible card games, or role playing games, the game you are playing likely has some connection to the gaming movement started in that small Wisconsin town.

So I drove to Lake Geneva and toured all of the locations that once housed the offices of TSR, the company that published D&D. Then finally, I stood in front of Gary's house and took about 10 pictures from across the street. It was relatively early in the evening and I contemplated walking up to the door and knocking, just to tell Gary how much entertainment his game has provided me over the past three decades. I walked up to the cars parked in front of the house (pictured below), but then I thought..."what if it is the wrong house?"

What if I walk up to the door, knock and ask for Gary and it's the wrong house? What if it's the right house? What kind of crazy stalker gamer knocks on a game designer's door uninvited?

So...I walked to the library, took a couple of pictures of the beautiful lake, walked around the small downtown area, and left. I was angry at myself for not emailing/message boarding Gary earlier, or later, and I promised myself that I would do so when I next traveled to the Wisconsin or Chicago area.

That day cannot come now.

God bless you Gary.

My group and I will have a moment of silence this weekend and I think we'll even do a small reading from one of the books you wrote. We all need to push through a little Gygaxian prose every now and then. Maybe I'll open up "Master of the Game," or read the introduction to the Player's Handbook (1st edition) one more time. That introduction made me feel like I was part of something special, even before I rolled my first die.

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