Uphill, Both Ways

Uphill, Both Ways
Honoring the Man Who Started Everything

Allen Varney | 27 Apr 2010 12:30
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"The city of Lake Geneva has agreed that yes, we can put a monument here in Lake Geneva. At no time has it been allowed to be in Library Park - from Day 1, that has never been an option. We were told that at the Parks committee, and also from the aldermen and the Taggart family [...] who donated the property. So there will be a monument one day in Lake Geneva, just - we're not sure how that's gonna happen."

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One or another memorial proposal may yet make progress among the aldermen - at least if Cousino succeeds in his bid to occupy Lake Geneva's District 1 seat.

Regardless of which group builds it, how much infighting delays it, or how grossly its stolid tastefulness contrasts with its impish subject, the Gygax monument will bring popular acclaim. For pilgrim gamers across the world, the statue will become a destination, and probably a shrine. With his death, Gygax once again shaped the roleplaying field by becoming its first and best-beloved nerd-saint.

Before 2008, some roleplaying designers judged Gygax's career faintly disappointing. Though they respected him for his pioneering innovations, organizational skill in launching Gen Con and other institutions, and generous help to newcomers, some judged his work - particularly his post-D&D RPGs, all failures - as clunky, incoherent, overwritten and obsolete. As a businessman, Gygax was demonstrably inept; in his personal life, he handled his early success unwisely.

But with his death - with the obituaries on CNN and in the Wall Street Journal - with the outpouring of emotion from hundreds of thousands of people whose lives he had profoundly benefited - Gygax's true magic grew wholly clear. Skepticism, suddenly feeble and petty, faded with the awareness that we shall not see his like again. When Wired senior editor Adam Rogers can write in the New York Times, "We live in Gary Gygax's world" and "Today millions of people are slaves to Gary Gygax," can you possibly quibble over, say, negative ascending Armor Class? Hey, hotshot, who's gonna build a statue for you?

The parting of a creative field's pioneer is, for the survivors, a rite of passage. Forging the new, relaying the torch - all the commencement-speech clich├ęs look forward. But even in their passing, the early giants remain important - though they play, so to speak, a new role. The pioneers become symbols, touchstones - points of shared reference that define a culture's history and unite its members. That symbolism becomes a lasting memorial. "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

"I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else." - Gary Gygax

Writer and game designer Allen Varney has written over 70 articles for The Escapist. "I met Gary only once," he says, "though I got to interview him twice by email, and he kindly provided a blurb for one of my books. It was always a pleasure."

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