Gary Gygax Annihilated at 69

by Eliezer Yudkowsky2 min read6th Mar 200820 comments


DeathGaming (videogames/tabletop)
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Yesterday I heard that Gary Gygax, inventor of Dungeons and Dragons, had died at 69.  And I don't understand, I truly don't, why that of all deaths should affect me the way it does.

Every day, people die; 150,000 of them, in fact.  Every now and then I read the obituary of a scientist whose work I admired, and I don't feel like this.  I should, of course, but I don't.  I remember hearing about the death of Isaac Asimov, and more distantly, the death of Robert Heinlein (though I was 8 at the time) and that didn't affect me like this.

I never knew one single thing about Gary Gygax.  I don't know if he had a wife or children.  I couldn't guess his political opinions, or what he thought about the future of humanity.  He was just a name on the cover of books I read until they disintegrated.

I searched on the Net and just found comments from other people feeling the same way.  Stopped in their tracks by this one death, and not understanding why, and trying to come up with an explanation for their own feelings.  Why him?

I never even really played D&D all that much.  I played a little with David Levitt, my best friend in elementary school - I think it was how we initially met, in fact, though the memory fades into oblivion.  I remember my father teaching me to play very simple D&D games, around the same time I was entering kindergarten; I remember being upset that I couldn't cast a Shield spell more than once.  But mostly, I just read the rulebooks.

There are people who played D&D with their friends, every week or every day, until late at night, in modules that Gary Gygax designed.  I understand why they feel sad.  But all I did, mostly, was read the rulebooks to myself.  Why do I feel the same way?

Did D&D help teach me that when the world is in danger, you are expected to save it?  Did Gary Gygax teach me to form new worlds in my imagination, or to fantasize about more interesting powers than money?  Is there something about mentally simulating D&D's rules that taught me how to think?  Is it just the sheer amount of total time my imagination spent in those worlds?

I truly don't know.  I truly don't know why I feel this way about Gary Gygax's death.  I don't know why I feel this compulsion to write about it, to tell someone.  I don't think I would have predicted this sadness, if you'd asked me one day before the event.

It tells me something I didn't know before, about how D&D must have helped to shape my childhood, and make me what I am.

And if you think that's amusing, honi soit qui mal y pense.

The online obituaries invariably contain comments along the line of, "Now Gygax gets to explore the Seven Heavens" or "God has new competition as a designer of worlds."

As an atheist, reading these comments just makes it worse, reminds me of the truth.

There are certain ways, in the D&D universe, to permanently destroy a soul - annihilate it, so that it can never be raised or resurrected.  You destroy the soul while it's hiding inside an amulet of life protection, or travel to the Outer Planes and destroy the soul in the afterlife of its home plane.  Roger M. Wilcox once wrote a story, a rather silly story, that in the midst of silliness included a funeral ceremony for a paladin whose soul had been destroyed:

Josephus took a deep breath.  "It is normally at this point in a eulogy where I console the friends and family of the departed by reminding them that although the deceased is no longer with us, he still smiles down on us from Heaven, and that those of us who loved him will see him again when they themselves pass on.  Once in a great while, when I agree to perform a funeral for someone who was of a different alignment, I will have to change this part of the eulogy since his soul will have gone to a plane other than Heaven.  It always makes it that much more poignant for me to know that neither I nor the mourners in my congregation will see him again when our lives end, but at least we have the reassurance that the departed soul still exists somewhere and that he may be smiling down upon us from Arcadia, or Elysium, or Nirvana, or whichever version of Heaven his alignment allows; and that, the power of his priesthood permitting, he may even be raised back to life or reincarnated in a new body someday."

The cleric's voice quavered.  "But this time, I cannot say even this.  For I know that Ringman's soul is not in Heaven where it rightfully belongs, nor in any other plane in the multiverse.  He will never come back, he cannot see us, and none of us will ever see him again.  This funeral is a true goodbye, which he will never hear."

Goodbye, Gary.