Who was Gary Gygax? To some people, he was a creative genius, taking tabletop games in a previously unexplored and unused direction that changed the face of gaming and led to legendary games such as tabletop gaming’s Magic: The Gathering and video gaming’s Final Fantasy series. To others, Gygax was a monster of depravity, luring innocent Christian youth down a road of fantasy and paganism with his phenomenally popular game, Dungeons and Dragons.
To me, Gary Gygax was one of two innovative geniuses who changed the face of tabletop gaming forever. He and his former friend and co-creator, Dave Arneson, worked together to create Dungeons and Dragons after both had achieved limited success on their previous roleplaying games. Gygax and Arneson combined Gygax’s success in fantasy roleplay (with the Chainmail medieval wargame) with Arneson’s success in military strategy wargames (particularly naval strategy) to create the basis for modern Dungeons and Dragons.
Dungeons and Dragons was first sold in 1974, and it found enormous success with people who enjoyed wargames and roleplay, as well as people who were fans of fantasy literature such as Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series. What started out as a small venture for Gygax and Arneson turned into a worldwide phenomenon, with BBC News estimating that over 20 million people play Dungeons and Dragons as of 2006.
Not everyone was happy with Gygax and Arneson’s success, though. Jack Chick, Patricia Pulling, Bill Schnoebelen, and many religious groups raised a furor about D&D being a “gateway” to Satanism, the occult, witchcraft, suicide, homicide, sexual deviance, necromancy, demon summoning, and many other potentially problematic actions, beliefs, or behaviors. Fortunately, Christian authors such as Tracy Hickman have done much to dispel myths and fears surrounding the concept of playing Dungeons and Dragons.
The creation of Dungeons and Dragons opened up a whole new world in tabletop gaming. Gygax and Arneson’s combined skill created a viable fantasy gaming world where mythos came to life and people could roleplay as various fantasy creatures, be they from fairy tales, mythology, or even the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Because of the advances that Gygax and Arneson made in tabletop gaming, game ideas that would have previously been discarded were scrutinized more closely. It was because of the success of Dungeons and Dragons that tabletop games such as Magic: the Gathering (which was developed as a portable game for convention attendees to play between events) and the d20 gaming system were able to be exist and thrive. The success of Dungeons and Dragons was even instrumental in the creation of Final Fantasy, which is one of the best-selling video game franchises in the world. Final Fantasy’s success, in turn, opened up the way for the modern roleplaying video game genre.
Would the world have tabletop games and roleplaying videogames without Gary Gygax? Of course it would, but the landscape of gaming would be vastly different. Fantasy tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons may have evolved eventually from early war and military strategy games, but the course of that evolution would have been vastly different. If it weren’t for the work of Gary Gygax, fantasy adventures might still be solitary, lonely mental exercises done after reading an H.P. Lovecraft or Anne McCaffrey story, and video gamers could still be relegated to arcades, playing Super Pac-Man XIV. Because of the changes that he brought to the gaming landscape, Ernest Gary Gygax will be forever remembered by gamers of every stripe as one of the founding fathers of modern gaming.