Of Gygax

As an avowed Great Big Nerd, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the passing of Gary Gygax, widely credited as the creator of Dungeons & Dragons. A lot of the nerd bloggers out there are writing about their early experiences with D&D or gaming in general. Been there, done that, myself.

Here's some wise words from the always-entertaining Christopher Bird on the matter:

And that was how I got into another D&D campaign, and made friends when I really needed them. And the important thing to understand is that my experience is the furthest thing from unique. What Gary Gygax - along with the other patron saints of nerddom, your Roddenberrys and Lucases and Stans-and-Jacks - did was to give the nerds and burnouts and outcasts their very own lingua franca, their own culture. Even though the paper RPG market is diminishing with every year, a market of late-thirtysomethings not replacing themselves with younger players, it lives on in a thousand thousand iterations: World of Warcraft is just the most obvious, but they’re everywhere.

And it's true. There's nothing greater for an adolescent outcast than to discover a place where he (or she) belongs, a group of like minds. And, as Mr. Bird astutely observes, that person need not be the classic nerd archetype. It's really not hard to believe it when Daniel DeSario joins the Geeks for an evening of gaming and actually finds that he's enjoying himself.

The appeal goes beyond the obvious, too. I mean, the appeal to the young nerd of entering a world where he is a warrior or a wizard, someone who wields power in some way, is obvious. But - as Paul La Farge observes and Wil Wheaton adeptly illustrates - there's something else going on there, too. It's the appeal not just of the power fantasy, but also of the collaborative environment. To a lot of kids for whom P.E. was pure torture, the world can really seem like a contest that's somehow rigged against them. You suck at dodgeball, someone else always beats you out for the attentions of the girl you like, you always feel like you're losing at some kind of competition that you didn't sign up for. The let's-be-friends, collaborative environment of D&D, where everybody's fighting the same monsters and working together to explore the dungeon and splitting up the treasure evenly, was the perfect antidote. This was especially true in the early days of D&D, when video games were in their infancy, continuing on through to my era in the late '80s and early '90s, when 2-player NES was as collaborative as video games got.

Today, of course, that function has been largely usurped by the ability to play Halo online and especially the various MMORPGs. But I think there's some truth to the idea that D&D helped to shape all of those things.

So anyway...thanks for your part in a lot of good times over the years, Gary. We're getting the gold together and heading for the local cleric to see about having you raised at the earliest opportunity.