Thursday, March 13, 2008

Backlash to the Gygax Backlash!

The other day, Ta-Nehisi wrote, "I can't wait for Ed Park to get a hold of this one."


He linked to Slate's "D&D is bad!" article—won't someone do this for The Wire?—which made me grumble...but I'll let a Dizzyhead (who chooses to remain anonymous) debate each of the piece's points:

Utterly and completely wrong-headed and misinformed.

1. It's easy to say that Gygax's game isn't designed well and that more recent designers did a better job. Gygax was first, and that brings its own challenges, like self-publishing from your basement with no editors.

2. It does not at all "play like a video game". Perhaps newer versions are more slick and styley, but the Gygax version played like a pulp novel.

3. Author's point about 'experience points' is wrong on the facts. The lion's share of experience points are awarded through finding treasure, not killing things.

4. Yes, it's true that the game portrayed monsters as unredeemable non-persons and good and evil as absolutes. That's how fantasy adventure works. Conan the Barbarian and Gandalf the Gray did not spend their time working out their relationship issues in lofts in Manhattan (or Minas Tirith), they killed things and took their stuff. If killing orcs is morally repugnant to you, then play a sci-fi game where you kill robots, but the metaphor is the same. Fantasy role-play was never intended as an arena in which moral conundra are explored.

5. Massacre and rage are not the point of a fantasy adventure (though greed definitely is). The point is solving a certain type of puzzle that's presented as a story in which you are a character, and the plot usually involves the use of force to surmount obstacles.

6. Steve Jackson is indeed a genius, and I've played GURPS, and it was fun in its own way. But SJ would never have been able to conceive of GURPS if D&D had not come first. And that is the legacy of Gygax, that he invented an entirely new genre of human activity.

In short, this guy is taking the "world" of D&D to be Gary Gygax's legacy when it's really the entire idea of a role-playing game that belongs to him. Orcs and dragons and swords and spells are not what Gygax created, he borrowed all that from elsewhere. What he created was a way for a group of friends to spend an afternoon talking and laughing and eating and drinking and rolling dice and solving math problems and acting and telling stories together, rather than say, playing pinochle. The type of stories that are told are really beside the point, just as the brand of playing cards is beside the point of a card game.

Also, when the author compares him to "more Michael Bay than Ingmar Bergman": I'd say that his sensibility is much more like Kurosawa or Peckinpah.

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