Sunday, January 26, 2014

40 Years of Geeky Fun

As best as the best geek research available is able to determine, Dungeons & Dragons--the game, the lifestyle, the way of appropriating and accommodating oneself to the world--first emerged exactly 40 years ago today. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, veterans of tabletop wargaming, got together one afternoon in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, with whomever responded to an open invitation to show up, and rolled out their innovation: a war game which was actually a role-playing game, a game where each player was an individual character, with various skills, capable of independent tasks, obliged to work with other players' characters in completing a fantasy task. And, like that (though in truth it took a while, and there was a lot of unexpected and sometimes bitter legal and financial road ahead), a gaming empire was born. And for that empire, I--like millions of others--have to offer up to their memory (both of them having passed on) some thanks. They and other early creative minds built a legacy of putting into rule books and dice and little figurines and maps the basic conceptual story-telling tools which, I think, sum up one of the great and enduring modern transformations of fantasy literature: that we can bring our individuality into worlds of fate and tragedy and heroism, and rather than being swept along by an environment which is strange and beautiful and not our own, we can play.

My Dungeons & Dragons history is a little younger than the game itself--but not by much. I'm 45 years old, born in 1968, and I'm pretty certain I started getting into role-playing games when I was in fifth or sixth grade. Certainly I was building my collection of D&D stuff by 1980. So that gives me 33 years of history with the game (though, to be fair, there was a ten-year stretch in there, between covering my college and the first part of my graduate school years, when I didn't have anything to do with the game), which is something I admit I'm proud of. I'm proud of all the 2nd edition rule books and modules which I still peruse on occasion, and the campaigns my brothers and I put together every year or so. Dungeons & Dragons (and other RPGs as well, but D&D--or, more properly, AD&D--was always and is still my first choice) was as big a part of my growing up--and probably still is, on one level or another, as huge a part of my basic cultural cognition--as film, literature, television, comic books, or any other avenue of escapism, imagination, or obsessive debate. Gygax and Co. gave me and millions of others a great boon more than a generation ago; the least I can do is say thanks.

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