Gary Gygax, who co-created the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons, died this week at his Wisconsin home. Gygax and Dave Arneson developed the game in 1974. It became known as the quintessential geek pastime, and its medieval characters and mythical creatures inspired a booming genre of computer games. (AP in Newsday)
What the commentators said
Raise a pint of imaginary ale, said Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Our nerd king has fallen.” Many Americans didn’t know who Gygax was, and so his death, at 69, didn’t register with them. “But for those of us who spent our Friday nights huddled around a hexagonal map scattered with lead figurines of dwarves and owlbears, instead of the spiked punch bowl at the junior prom, this is a very mournful week.” Gygax created a world where nerds could feel they belonged.
“Unlike the paunchy, white-ponytailed Gygax, who was not afraid to let his geek flag fly,” said Joel Stein in the Los Angeles Times (free registration), “I have spent the last 20 years avoiding ‘D&D’ because I was ashamed.” But paging through the old D&D books after Gygax’s death, “I realized they are the best books I own: detailed, weird, creative, smart, funny—encyclopedic lists of rules for spells, monsters, gods, weapons, trade, and career advancement.”
“Yes, we all knew, deep inside, that D&D wasn't cool,” said Jonathan Rubin in Slate. “Being able to say, ‘I cast a Level 3 lightning bolt at the basilisk while averting my eyes so I don't turn to stone’ doesn't have the social pull of ‘I know a guy who will buy us some alcohol.’” But “even despite the social stigma, millions of people, me included, wouldn't have made it through adolescence" without the safe harbor of the world Gygax created.