Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Gary Gygax, RIP

As much as any "writer" of "books," Gary Gygax shaped my literary tastes (and developed my vocabulary!). About an hour ago, I learned (on the phone) that he passed away...and then my friend Kon sent me this obit:

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (AP) -- Gary Gygax, who co-created the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons and helped start the role-playing phenomenon, died Tuesday morning at his home in Lake Geneva. He was 69.

He had been suffering from health problems for several years, including an abdominal aneurysm, said his wife, Gail Gygax.

Gygax and Dave Arneson developed Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 using medieval characters and mythical creatures. The game known for its oddly shaped dice became a hit, particularly among teenage boys, and eventually was turned into video games, books and movies.

Gygax always enjoyed hearing from the game's legion of devoted fans, many of whom would stop by the family's home in Lake Geneva, about 55 miles southwest of Milwaukee, his wife said. Despite his declining health, he hosted weekly games of Dungeons & Dragons as recently as January, she said.

"It really meant a lot to him to hear from people from over the years about how he helped them become a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, what he gave them," Gygax said. "He really enjoyed that."

Dungeons & Dragons players create fictional characters and carry out their adventures with the help of complicated rules. The quintessential geek pastime, it spawned a wealth of copycat games and later inspired a whole genre of computer games that's still growing in popularity.

Funeral arrangements are pending. Besides his wife, Gygax is survived by six children.

And then Dizzyhead/Dadistan blogger James e-mailed: "Roll up another one!" (A reference to the process by which one creates characters in D&D...by rolling three six-sided dice for various attributes....I feel like I'm writing a Wikipedia entry....)

And then I thought I'd better post Paul La Farge's lovely Believer piece, in which he journeys to Wisconsin and plays D&D with its creator!
He went to school half a block from his childhood house in Lake Geneva, but he was rarely to be found there. “It was just dull and stupid,” he says, “and you know, I had so many other things I wanted to do. I had a day full of active going out with my friends, playing chess, hanging around, trying to pick up girls, usually without any success whatsoever. What? Sit home? Do school work? Unthinkable.”

UPDATE: Before hearing about Gygax's passing, I was having lunch with my ex-PTSNBN colleague, Ta-Nehisi, whose memoir The Beautiful Struggle is coming out soon. We talked about (among other things)...D&D! (D&D runs through his book, even.)

UPDATE #2: Here's the Times obit (well, also from AP, but longer)—

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