On Gygax and D&D

There’s not really much one can say here, but Gary Gygax has died.

If you are unaware, Gygax created Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s. Before scoffing that off as mere nerd sentimentality, realize that without Dungeons and Dragons, we may not have a digital game world as we know it today. Besides the obvious point that a large portion of the game designers out there today whetted their craft by being a dungeon master (this one included), the correlation between the expansion of Dungeons and Dragons and the expansion of electronic gaming is something that cannot be dismissed.

Even today, many popular games take mechanics from D&D. Look at Madden, one of the least I-put-on-my-robe-and-wizard-hat games out there. How does the computer know if a player makes a catch? Well to simplify a ton, if the ball is catchable the game looks at the player’s Catch ability, generates a random number and then looks up that random number in a table for a result that is modified by the ability number. Anyone who has played D&D knows this to be a near identical match to the mechanics of a skill check or at the very least, a saving throw.

This is also completely ignoring the quantum leap D&D made where wargame mechanics could be combined with a form of storytelling to create a synergistic whole different than the sum of its parts. A debt which all action/adevnture/RPG games cannot repay.

Finally, the education aspects of Dungeons & Dragons can’t be ignored. It not only taught legions of maladjusted kids great vocabulary, but it taught strategic thinking, drama, writing, drawing, communication, teamwork skills, and so on and so on. Much ado is made about the learning kids can get from team sports, but not enough is made from the opportunities D&D brings because it is culturally maligned.

When we talk about the industry’s great luminaries: Miyamoto, Wright, Meyer, Molyneux, &c., it always seems to be shame that Gygax was snubbed from the list simply because his output wasn’t confined to the digital. Here’s hoping that in death he can reach that pantheon.

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