Gary Gygax, Game Pioneer, Dies at 69
(July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)
By SETH SCHIESEL
Published: March 5, 2008
Gary Gygax, a pioneer of the imagination who transported a fantasy realm of wizards, goblins and elves onto millions of kitchen tables around the world through the game he helped create, Dungeons & Dragons, died Tuesday at his home in Lake Geneva, Wis. He was 69.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Gail Gygax, who said he had been ailing and had recently suffered an abdominal aneurysm, The Associated Press reported.
As co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, the seminal role-playing game introduced in 1974, Mr. Gygax wielded a cultural influence far broader than his relatively narrow fame among hard-core game enthusiasts.
Before Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy world was something to be merely read about in the works of authors like J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert Howard. But with Dungeons & Dragons, Mr. Gygax and his collaborator, Dave Arneson, created the first fantasy universe that could actually be inhabited. In that sense, Dungeons & Dragons formed a bridge between the noninteractive world of books and films and the exploding interactive video game industry. It also became a commercial phenomenon, selling an estimated $1 billion in books and equipment. More than 20 million people are estimated to have played the game.
While Dungeons & Dragons became famous for its voluminous rules, Mr. Gygax was always adamant that the game's most important rule was to have fun and to enjoy the social experience of creating collaborative entertainment. In Dungeons & Dragons, players create an alternate persona, like a dwarven thief or a noble paladin, and go off on imagined adventures under the adjudication of another player called the Dungeon Master.
"The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience," Mr. Gygax said in a telephone interview in 2006. "There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character in whatever genre you're involved in, whether it's a fantasy game, the Wild West, secret agents or whatever else. You get to sort of vicariously experience those things."
When Mr. Gygax (pronounced GUY-gax) first published Dungeons & Dragons under the banner of his company, Tactical Studies Rules, the game appealed mostly to college-age players. But many of those early adopters continued to play into middle age, even as the game also trickled down to a younger audience.
"It initially went to the college-age group, and then it worked its way backward into the high schools and junior high schools as the college-age siblings brought the game home and the younger ones picked it up," Mr. Gygax said.
Mr. Gygax's company, renamed TSR, was acquired in 1997 by Wizards of the Coast, which was later acquired by Hasbro, which now publishes the game.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Gygax is survived by six children: three sons, Ernest G. Jr., Lucion Paul and Alexander; and three daughters, Mary Elise, Heidi Jo and Cindy Lee.
These days, pen-and-paper role-playing games have largely been supplanted by online computer games. Dungeons & Dragons itself has been translated into electronic games, including Dungeons & Dragons Online. Mr. Gygax recognized the shift, but he never fully approved. To him, all of the graphics of a computer dulled what he considered one of the major human faculties: the imagination.
"There is no intimacy; it's not live," he said of online games. "It's being translated through a computer, and your imagination is not there the same way it is when you're actually together with a group of people. It reminds me of one time where I saw some children talking about whether they liked radio or television, and I asked one little boy why he preferred radio, and he said, 'Because the pictures are so much better.' "