Of all the celebrity deaths that have happened over the past year or so, none has gotten me choked up like this one. Gary Gygax. Damn.
I actually got into gaming because of Jack Chick. OK, maybe that's going too far. I probably didn't read the classic Dark Dungeons tract until after I'd started gaming. But I had read a local news story about this scary, dangerous new game that made kids go crazy and get lost in steam tunnels.
So when I got my birthday money that year, I went straight to generic bookstore in the mall and bought the Basic D&D box set, the one with the blue cover and the dice that came with a crayon so you could color in the numbers yourself.
I was in Hawaii, on one of those summers with my father. My parents had split up a few years before and Dad had moved from Missouri to go into business with his father. Mom had remarried just before we left for Hawaii, and the plan was that she and my stepdad would move us to Texas while we were out of underfoot.
So I had just said goodbye to all my sixth-grade friends, including the first girl I had ever held hands with. She gave me a copy of Lord Foul's Bane as a farewell present. She didn't know what it was, but she knew I'd loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
I sort of puzzled over D&D the rest of that summer, trying out a couple of games with my brother and sister, and then arrived in Austin. I was overwhelmed and culture-shocked, with no friends, and then one day somebody saw me reading a D&D book in homeroom.
He introduced me to another gamer, and together we started playing.
Eventually we decided to form a club, and I went to the principal to get official sanction. He gruffly asked me whether this was going to cause a bunch of suicides.
But I think he was just kidding, because after my (probably unnecessary and painfully geeky) explanations of how playing D&D would help kids with math (dice rolls and gold!) and biology (centaurs!) and geography (maps!), he OKed it.
Somewhere in storage in Austin, I still have my fallen-apart AD&D hardcovers, lovingly rebound with duct tape. I knew every rule in those days. Hell, I knew the page numbers of every rule!
I was like one of those kids studying to be a preacher who memorize the Bible chapter and verse. Hey, maybe Jack Chick was onto something. Nah!
I know a few people who got too deeply into RPGs for a time. Heck, for a time, I was one of them. Yeah, OK, I didn't date much in high school, but then I also didn't get anyone pregnant, and there were a lot of pregnant girls in my school.
I have no regrets. Every one of my long-term friendships, the ones that have lasted more than twenty years, are gamers I hooked up with in those days of junior-high and high school. My interests in reading and culture and history were magnified by my gaming, and here I am, a professor of American Literature, getting paid oodles of money for a job I love, with a wife and kids and even a grandchild, in an exciting, exotic land.
I got kind of burnt out on D&D late in high school and didn\'t play it for a long, long time, instead playing just about every RPG that came out for awhile there. Even today, D&D is not my favorite game, but I have learned to enjoy it again, since it's almost the only option among the gamers of my current city of residence.
To have Gary die just when I'm getting back into it, man, that's tough.
But I know Gary is up there, to the right, in Arborea (hey, the man was CG, you just know it), getting a game together as we natter on about how he affected us.
Game on, y'all.