Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Gary Gygax RIP and the Social Politics of Death

Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons died yesterday. He was 69. Across the internet literally 1000s of gamers have been expressing their feelings at his passing with a mixture of sadness, shock and mellow contemplation.

As I noted in a previous entry, my friend Barron Vangor Toth - another games designer - has also died. Whilst I know Barron never saw the point of rpgs, I doubt even he would have put himself on the same level as Gygax.

And recently actor Heath Ledger died. Ledger will be the Joker in the upcoming Dark Knight film, the sequel to the highly successful Batman Begins franchise relaunch.

I have been watching how people have related to these three deaths on messageboards and how people are reacting. I think it says something about each one.

Ledger's death was met with shock and regret on my Squared Circle messageboard but quickly this shock was followed by calls of dramatics and hypocrisy from some members. No-one had ever met Ledger - they had only ever seen him in film - and hundreds of other people who may have lead more credible lifestyles died each day but were not mourned, so why him? Why take a knee at the alter of celebrity for this young death and ignore the others? Its a valid point I suppose but in the end it speaks to the link that we make in our minds with the people we see on the screen more than the people that may be living and dying around us.

Barron's death has been met with a number of tribute threads across the sites that he impacted - SQC, Team Canada Online, Gutshot etc. The Raw Deal related ones have been curious in the tone of their comments. Barron was an incendiary figure in Raw Deal and created a lot of enemies because of his style and manner. He was indeed, by some, 'hated' - in that horrendous internet exaggeration that really means 'annoys me' rather than 'I would stab him in the face rather than speak to him'. Therefore a number of the tributes have been cautious, guarded and balanced. Those that met him are able to seperate the Online BVT with the Offline BVT. Those that have not do not have that option. Only one poster on TCO has stood up and said 'the truth' (ie. you had nothing good to say about him when he was alive...) and he has been roundly lambasted. What I wonder here is whether this event has made people realise that messageboard communications are not cast-iron spoken contracts but rather interactions with a dash of drama, acting and impersonation? They are rife with overexaggeration, posturing and hyperbole and the reactions that people have to them are such as well.

Gygax has gone beyond that. Very few people knew Gygax but they knew his game and his legacy. It appears that the legacy is by far and away the most important thing in his case. Without Gygax there would not be a roleplaying hobby and by extension there would probably not be a CCG hobby, a LARP hobby, a Games Workshop hobby or a MMORPG hobby. His impact on world hobby culture has been immense and I was pleased to see that even the BBC acknowledged it, deep deep into its pages.

I doubt there will be a Gygax backlash, not after all of the posts on the messageboards I have read. There would be a lynch mob.

I guess its really about legacy. Ledger left little legacy and what he did leave was a fleeting touch from a screen. Barron created an experience that cemented a community and despite his failings, his successes far outweighed that. Gygax was the Father of Gaming and without his inspiration the world would be a very different place today.

Watch a film, flop a card and roll a funny shaped dice and appreciate what people bring to us all - because you never know when they might not be here.

p.s. No more death posts, I promise!
p.p.s. Well, unless someone else of BotG importance dies!

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