Wednesday, May 02, 2012

[Gaming History] Gigi D'arn -- Who is/was she?

Way back in the days of role playing yore -- 1979 to be specific -- the gaming hobby was introduced to its first official gossip columnist.  That columnist was Gigi D'Arn, and she wrote her first gossip column "A Letter from Gigi" in the second issue of The Chaosium's Different Worlds gaming magazine.  Though her first article was published in 1979, her real identity has never been revealed.  I find this bit of gaming history to be one of the most interesting mysteries in the hobby.

Just who is/was Gigi D'arn?

From my initial searching of the internet, it appears that the consensus seems to fall in line with the description at RPG Geek.  That being that Gigi was a fabrication of Different Worlds editor Tadashi Ehara and was probably a compilation of comments by Chaosium staff.  Even Allen Varney -- a long time gamer and pretty informed participant in the "Western" gaming community of the 70s and 80s -- seems to agree with this hypothesis.  After taking some time to research the question, I don't agree with the consensus opinion.  I would like to offer the hypothesis that Gigi was a real gamer who was introduced to the gaming hobby in Southern California and who was a part of the "Alarums & Excursions" crowd.

Before I begin to present the little evidence I have in favor of my hypothesis, let me say that the Gigi D'arn articles -- along with the Larry DiTillio "Sword of Hollywood" articles -- are some of my favorite reading and are part of what made Different Worlds such a good gaming magazine.  Regardless of who Gigi was or wasn't, she was a very entertaining writer.  I would venture to say that she was the Shelly Mazzanoble of her day.  Shelly, with her "Confessions of" columns on the Wizards website are the closest thing I have found to Gigi's writing.  The column's not for everyone, it is a gossip column after all, but I enjoy it in a "Real Housewives meets D&D" kind of way.  I've also been a fan of the pseudonym itself.  Using a pseudonym that was a combination of both Gary Gygax and David Arneson's names seems to me the perfect identity for a gossip columnist.

Now for the evidence that Gigi was a real person -- though I do agree that some of the rumors might have been compiled from Chaosium staffers.

1) In the first column in Issue #2, Gigi mentioned that she lives in the Los Angeles area.  -- Chaosium is a Bay Area company, and while this bit of information might seem a bit of "misdirection" later statements and supporting evidence will highlight how this is more likely true than misdirection.

2) This information is repeated in issue #5 as "Another local news is that LEE GOLD is working on a feudal Japan supplement to C&S."  It should be noted that this piece of information follows discussion of Ken St. Andre and Flying Buffalo.  Given that the Arizona and SoCal gaming communities were fairly tied together back then, this isn't surprising. 

3) In issue 16, Tadashi addresses the issue face on.  In issue 14, Tadashi included a survey that contained the question "Who do you think is Gigi?"  They received several responses which were published in issue 16, including.  "A committee composed of the DW staff" and "Gary Gygax in drag."  Tadashi wrote the following in the editorial:

These are the ones Gigi laughed at when I showed them to her.  You see, she is a real person.  She lives in southern California and writes occasional feature articles (Rose Bowl Parade, Miss Culver City Contest, "Save the Fruit Fly Movement!", Rhubarb Festival, etc.) for a local newspaper/advertiser.  She is an ardent fan of the entire gaming hobby, not just role playing. And she jealously guards her real identity.
Seems to me that this hints pretty strongly that it's a real person.  Though I have to admit that Lexis/Nexis searches for "Save the Fruit Fly Movement!" yielded no information, nor did following up a Rose Chung/Greg Stafford/Scott Bizar reference in issue #2.

4) Issue #31 contains an interview with Gigi.  This interview is one of three "My Life and Role-Playing" interviews featured in the issue.  The others are Dave Hargrave and Gerald D. Seypura, both of whom are real people.  The "My Life" interviews were a semi-regular feature of DW, especially in the early issues.  In the interview, Gigi provides some very interesting information.  First, she claims to have attended CSLA, UCLA, and Michigan.  She mentions that her first husband was a member of the SCA and that she was introduced to D&D by SCA members Barry Detweiler and Connie James (she admits that these are pseudonyms).  My next point will return to Barry and Connie.  She also writs extensively about her work history, her marriage, and how she met Tadashi.  This interview in no way seems fictional.  It lacks all of the flair of an authors "exaggerated" biography.  It is quite mundane, but does include the statement "At cons you can recognize me by my glasses."  Which I found interesting as that issue included this picture:

Image from Different Worlds 31 copyright Tadashi Ehara 1983

Given Gigi's intimate knowledge of the workings of Flying Buffalo, implying friendship/familiarity with the staff, and the "Glasses" reference in the letter, I couldn't help but wonder if the woman on the right is the mysterious Gigi.  I still do wonder that very question.

5) Remember Barry and Connie above?  In his interview with Lee Gold, a southern California gaming community giant, James Maliszewski asked Lee how she became involved in the role playing game hobby.  Her answer?

Our friends, Owen & Hilda Hannifen, came down from San Francisco to visit us, with a copy of the Original D&D rules. My husband and I were fascinated, and they lent us a photocopy of the rules, on seeing us write a check to TSR to order our own copy, so we wouldn't have to wait till the rules arrived (in a brown box) from TSR.
There is no mention that Owen and Hilda were members of the SCA, but given how central Lee Gold was to the Southern California gaming community, and given that Lee and Barry Gold were members of the SCA, it doesn't take much of a leap to speculate that Barry and Connie are either Owen and Hilda, Lee and Barry, or a combination thereof.

6) In 2004, Gigi wrote a letter to Tadashi for his Different Worlds publications website. In that letter, she mentions moving to Colorado, she mentions her "latest beau," and she mentions that Mike Stackpole looks more fit than the last time she and Tadashi saw him.  Remember that photo above?
None of this proves that Gigi is/was a real person, or that Gigi is still around for that matter.  What it does do though, is make it reasonable to hypothesize that Gigi was in fact an actual individual who was friends with Tadashi and who wrote the column.  Finding out if Gigi is a real person is a bit like being a blind man examining an elephant.  The evidence is scarce and inconclusive, but it is the evidence we have.

I believe that we should create theories from the evidence we have, and so I believe that Gigi is a real person who now lives in Colorado.


Allen Varney said...

Mike Stackpole says the woman in the photo is Pat Mueller, though I'm not sure I buy that. On Twitter (@MikeStackpole), Mike says, "I ran into Tadashi in 2004. [...] I'm 99% sure Gigi was Tadashi. I thought I remembered confirmation of same from the horse's mouth, but I could be in error."

Michael Stackpole said...

To follow up on Allen's comment, even if that isn't Pat, it would have been Deb Wykle. She came into the industry well after Gigi was in it and Different Worlds had already retired.

I do recall seeing Tadashi again in the 2004 timeframe, which would have been the source of the remark. I'd shed a fair amount of weight and some hair in the interim.

The conversation I dimly recall now about Gigi was post convention, probably a DundraCon, early to mid 80s. (It might have even been at the convention where that picture was taken.) I came away with the sense that Tadashi wrote the Gigi column, and never had the sense that there was much of a mystery to it.

Debora K said...

This is such a fun conspiracy that I was going to keep quiet, but I see Mike has already identified me. That is indeed me, Deb Wykle (married now to another former Flying Buffalo employee Bill Kerr). How anyone could label me "sexy friend" in light of those godawful huge '80s glasses and that perm . . . well, at least I was thinner then, lol.

Unknown said...

For the record, for each DW issue, Gigi (not her real name) would write me a letter. (That's why every one of her columns begins with "Dear Tadashi.") The Chaosium staff would then proceed to embellish it for final publication. After publication each of her original letters were unceremoniously burnt to a crisp as she did not want any physical evidence of her lying around.

Greg Stafford said...

Just for the record
I do not recall the exact statement that Gigi made, but concerning "Rose Chun, Scott Bizar, Greg Stafford":
Rose is the mother of two sisters who were the wives of Scott and I. I always thought it ironic that we were brothers in law, what with Scott's NY-style "publish everything and one will hit" style and my CA-style "make it as excellent as possible before publishing"

piper909 said...

I mailed Gigi -- must have been an address to contact her at -- a number of reports and sometimes copies of documents (for verification) and suitably juicy stories during the time I worked at TSR Hobbies (1980-81) and Metagaming (1981-82). Most of them ended up in her column, sometimes attributed to me as the source, sometimes not. I fell out of the habit when I left Coleco and the game industry after 1983 and I no longer seem to have any copies of DW magazine but I remember Gigi's column fondly and I *hope* she is a real person. I thought she was cute as a bug, judging from her cartoon image! Sic transit gloria mundi.

NerdyPolitical said...

The name is obviously a cute pseudonym: G G d'Arn(eson). Who knows about the rest?