Gary Gygax: it’s complicated

Things I don’t like about Gary Gygax:

  • The gall with which he kept using first-person singular (“I devised”, “I created”, “I invented”) in describing clearly collaborative efforts.
  • How he basically edited Dave Arneson out of the books history of D&D. (Arneson! The person who actually invented roleplaying!) And not just him.
  • How he kept suing the fans of his own games for making up their own rules based on somebody else’s – JUST LIKE HE HAD. It pissed off people so much that they called TSR  (his company) “They Sue Regularly”, and him “Ye Dread Gygax”.
  • How he acted like he owned fantasy roleplaying. When Wizards of the Coast bought D&D, it was a standard corporate takeover – from the hands of a geek who loves the Thing, to the hands of a big company which wants to profit from the Thing – and that would have infuriated the fans… if TSR wasn’t so shitty with them. People actually cheered. And WotC had the bare minimum smarts at that point to come up with the Open Gaming Licence, which wasn’t perfect, but damn, it allowed people to publish their own lore and homebrew without worrying about freaking legal expenses…
  • He fitted the profile of Nixon’s “silent majority” to a T.
  • He was sexist as fuck.
  • Almost every bit of D&D lore and rules that I hate can be traced back to him.

[see The First Female Gamers for context for this image]

Things I like about Gary Gygax:

  • Almost every bit of D&D lore and rules that I love can be traced back to him.
  • FUCKING DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. This blog. This Collective. A million dice, many clattering on a table somewhere in the world as we speak, a million worlds, a million stories. All partly – but surely – traced back to him.

Speaking ill of the dead

Gygax didn’t revert to icon status with his death in 2008, but a lot earlier. Once he left TSR, and lost all the rights of D&D including his own lore (Greyhawk, Mordenkainen, Tenser…), he went immediately from Ye Dread Gygax who Sues Regularly to underdog. He was like a popular, dispossessed noble. Nobody had ever questioned how much he loved the game, or how immense his contributions were (though he didn’t actually create it all by himself, ffs). It was mostly his business practices that pissed people off. And even then, plenty of people didn’t care about that at all, and simply saw him as the indisputable D&D chief.

But now that D&D wasn’t his business any more, he could be universally loved again. Worshipped, even. With his seniority, charisma, brand name (I mean, it’s a striking name, and it was very well known), sick DM skills, continuing involvement in the game with conventions and publications, and his unbounded, contagious love for the game, he successfully got the title “father of D&D”.

And though I’ll nitpick that it wasn’t a virgin birth, dammit, it was a freaking orgy of creativity that birthed D&D, I must admit that if you had to pick out a single person for the honour, by that time you couldn’t possibly pick anyone else.

What his death did change, however, was how he was presented in geek media: like a saint, more or less. It’s been 9 years, and all the pieces about him are still eulogies. His failings are mentioned in other people’s stories, but never in his own. His story is now legend, nostalgia kills reason, and we don’t speak ill of the dead, do we?

Fuck that. Speak ill of the dead. They were human, and humans fuck up, and we need to remember their fuck-ups along with all the good they did, otherwise we’ll fuck up the same damn way, and that’s just a waste of history.

Remember it all. That’s true love.

Remember, kids! Smashing your idols now and then is good for the soul. And the brain.

[originally posted by Rogue on tumblr]

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