On The Influence of Gary Gygax

Today would have been Gary Gygax’s birthday.

Gygax, one of the co-creators of the game Dungeons & Dragons, inadvertently helped create the massive computer game industry that exists by inspiring three decades of future game designers. There’s been much written on the subject [you can read our chapter on the D&D Creation Myth], and there’s currently a documentary being filmed about the impact of the game. He’s become such a geek cultural icon that there is a movement to have a statute of him built in his hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Take a moment to soak that in: the creator of a paper game that inspired the computer games industry getting a statue.

The techno-geeks have come quite a long way.

When John and I originally conceived Dungeons & Dreamers, we were adamant that we’d treat the subjects with the kind of importance that others use when talking about great literature or film. These games, oftentimes dismissed as simplistic, not so easily defined.

Eight years later as we rework Dreamers into its Second Edition, I stumbled upon Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks, a book that traces the real-life communities that spawned from D&D and the games industry. I have no idea who Ethan Gilsdorf is but the book certainly feels like a sibling to ours.

I can’t wait to get my hands on it. While it covers some of the same ground (Richard was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, for instance), his exploration feels very much different than our treatment. His is a first-hand experience moving through the extended game culture, and my sense is that he treats these subjects with the same kind of light-hearted reverence.

The emergent digital culture that exists today owes much to game communities that in turn own much to Gygax and Dungeons & Dragons. Some may find that connection strange, but for those of us who have studied the history and spread of digital culture, the connections become real.

So: happy birthday, Gary, and thanks for everything.