The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Thoughts on Gary Gygax (RIP)

I never met Gary Gygax, but he was (by all accounts) a nice person. It’s easy enough to praise Dungeons and Dragons (and role-playing games). But I want to praise Gary for something that (I think) gets lost in the shuffle. So let me put a bit of hyperbole on it:

Mr. Gygax did more for young boys than all the teaching colleges of this country.

To be clear, I don’t think he did more than ‘teachers’. But he did more than those who taught the teachers. They provided techniques. But his games … those provided motivation. How many people learned the basics of probability from D&D? I don’t think I saw a Bell Curve before the Dungeon Master’s Guide. How many ‘wasted’ weekends (and months) playing these games? And all they had to show for it (apart from the sheer enjoyment) was an introduction to various mythologies, military history, literature (say what you will about the D&D novels, which I’ve never read, but many of my generation went from D&D to Tolkien, instead of the other way around), philosophy, acting, writing, or other interests.

I like role playing games, but more in theory than in practice. (That being said, I may as well reveal that we organized an actual D&D game recently, but it was delayed until … this Friday). I don’t actually enjoy role playing as much as the system … which is why I gravitated towards board games. But D&D remains one of the most tinkerable systems around.

Not everyone is inspired by D&D (or even games). The sports page has taught more than even Gary dreamed of. I’m not convinced that you can get a PhD in statistics without following baseball.

These ‘recreational pastimes’ matter. I’ve learned more outside of the classroom than in it, because what I learned outside was more fun (and important to me). And it’s not just role playing. How many kids (and adults) grasped economic concepts because of Magic, Pokemon and other collectible card games? When I was in North Carolina, about a decade ago, a ~15 year old boy tried to trade away his laptop for several hundred dollars worth of magic cards. His mom forbade it, since she had bought the laptop, but then came into the local game store to discuss it with the owner. The boy argued that the laptop was depreciating, but the cards were gaining in value. When she confirmed that he was right, she allowed him to make the trade.

My kids (like many before them) are going through a Pokemon phase. My daughter has been learning the perils of eBay (buying cards, and games for her Nintendo DS, a device that the 10 year old me would have killed for). I have real hope that Pokemon (the CCG) may finally spur my son to take reading seriously. Right now he can spell roughly four words — his name, Mom, Spider, and man.

So, Rest in Peace Gary. Your praises are being sung by us, while “right thinking, serious” people ignore you so that they can make the world a better place by doing important things, instead of ‘wasting time playing games.’

Written by taogaming

March 5, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Ramblings

Tagged with

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. “Your praises are being sung by us, while “right thinking, serious” people ignore you…”

    Eh? What is with the slam at the end? Or perhaps I misunderstood you due to the politically charged atmosphere. 😛

    In any case, great article, great points. I remember finding it strange when I realized that learning about things like math and economics was slipped into playing games. The systems are all connected.


    March 6, 2008 at 10:47 am

  2. I think it’s a general slam on puritan tendencies. Those are found on both the right and the left (with each side thinking the other is the main culprit). I was thinking more along the lines of Eric Hoffer (ala the True Believer).

    Everyone (correctly) makes fun of the Jack Chick “D&D is evil” mentality, but I feel that we should direct scorn at those who tell us how we should be spending our time “for our own good” and with that “more in sorrow than anger” type. Mazes and Monsters came at my hobbies from the right, but administrators actually banned this at establishments I went to. (That didn’t bother me at the time, as they didn’t ban boardgames, but it just reeks of meddling and hubris).

    I realized (after writing this) that I’d even seen it on BGG recently, with (some) people bemoaning time “wasted” on Guitar Hero instead of learning real music etc. Ir’s really just more of a “Stuff I like is good, stuff I dislike is bad.” That’s fine (and expected) as water cooler talk, but really annoying when people start telling me what to do or trying to enforce policy on others.


    March 6, 2008 at 5:48 pm

  3. To clarify, my specific Eric Hoffer thought was:

    A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.


    March 6, 2008 at 5:52 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: