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Gary Gygax Annihilated at 69

11 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 March 2008 08:54PM

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.

Comments (20)

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Comment author: Michael_G.r.2 06 March 2008 09:30:59PM 1 point [-]

"But all I did, mostly, was read the rulebooks to myself."

That's strange. I did the exact same thing. Never really played the game, but spent hours and hours reading those books, letting my mind wander.

Comment author: TGGP4 06 March 2008 09:54:48PM 0 points [-]

I used to read rulebooks too. I briefly tried playing D&D but got kicked out of the group because my entry-level high-school job conflicted with their play-times. I also spent way too much time reading about the INWO card game ont he internet, though I have still not do this day seen any of those cards in meatspace. I've still got the Call of Cthulhu rulebook (a sort of farewell present from the group that kicked me out), though I've never played that either.

Anyone know of other good examples of atheist eulogies? I've only been to one funeral, and though my grandfather wasn't particularly religious and did not believe in an afterlife, they still did the normal stuff.

Comment author: Luke_G.2 06 March 2008 10:01:34PM 0 points [-]

How funny. I too was an avid rulebook-reader but rarely got the chance to play.

Comment author: anonymous4 06 March 2008 10:40:39PM 0 points [-]

I felt this way when Heath Ledger died.

Bring on the scorn if you want to, but first go and watch Brokeback Mountain again.

By the way, I played second edition for years, and Gygax's death doesn't sadden me.

Comment author: blejkrajli 06 March 2008 11:05:13PM 6 points [-]

I'll chime in as someone who avidly read the rulebooks, but never actively played. Does this mean we were all so socially inept that not even D&D groups would accept us?

Comment author: Aaron_M. 06 March 2008 11:06:58PM 7 points [-]

From Vonnegut's book "A Man Without A Country":

We had a memorial services for Isaac a few years back, and at one point I said, "Isaac is up in Heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to a group of Humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, "Kurt is up in Heaven now." That’s my favorite joke.

Comment author: Miguel 06 March 2008 11:49:00PM 0 points [-]

Another rulebook reader here. Played D&D only a few times, but read the books A LOT (along with GURPS and Vampire: The Masquerade).

Anyway, I wasn't that sad about Gygax's death, but it affected me nonetheless. I always liked the effect his fantasy worlds had upon me... And I like the atheist eulogy - rings much more honestly in my ears.

Comment author: Ron_Hardin 07 March 2008 12:06:53AM 0 points [-]

It must be a Princess Diana effect.

Comment author: Laura 07 March 2008 12:09:56AM 0 points [-]

Wow- I played many times - I thought it was fun to pretend to be a character- never read the rule books - never owned the rule books... must have missed something here.

Comment author: Sebastian_Hagen2 07 March 2008 01:34:34AM 0 points [-]

In line with the general silliness of Roger Wilson's "Disgusting characters" stories, the character the quoted eulogy was for did, in the end, come back to life (they broke the rules on that one). This doesn't offer any consolation to us in the real world, of course. Real people are still annihilated, and the same might still be in store for any of us. It's really time we (as in "the human civilization") did something about that.

Comment author: Sebastian_Hagen2 07 March 2008 01:37:25AM 0 points [-]

Argh, memory glitch. Please run s/Wilson/Wilcox/ on my last comment before parsing.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 07 March 2008 01:41:04AM 1 point [-]

You know, I had a thought lately, that is sorta kinda related to this. I think you've written/wondered/complained about the why cryonic suspension isn't the _standard procedure_.

Anyways, lately I've been thinking.... Why not? I mean seriously, why not?

I think it was Robin Hanson that suggested that if you want to get stuff done that is potentially political, push in directions perpendicular to the tug of war between the parties.

So... put it together and... really why not?

Sorry, perhaps being a bit unclear here. What I mean is this: Why not actually make a serious push (pester congrescritters or whatever) to try alter the legal standards for "default things done at death when lacking any explicit will/instructions/medical advice/whatever to the contrary" to actively encourage cryonic suspension, or at least to try to seriously push for tweaking of the legalities to at least make it easier. (ie, explicit legal stuff that would take into account the possibility of someone being reanimated, and them being able to reclaim their identity, etc..)

Instead of being on the defensive, jumping through legal hoops, why not at least for this go on the offensive as it were, actively push to have it more accepted/encouraged, and even become standard procedure. The very fact that it's an issue that's comepletely out of nowhere compared to the stuff the regulation writers are, well, regulating and arguing about may be enough to help a push for it work. (That is, a push for it to become SOP)

Maybe not a very good chance, but perhaps a better chance than it seems on the surface.

(If this sort of thing belongs in the Open Thread, let me know, or move it if the software is set up to make it easy to do that. But it seemed appropriate here)

Comment author: Silas 07 March 2008 02:26:17AM 0 points [-]

I don't see how this relates to "37 Ways That Words Can Be Wrong" =-/

Comment author: Eric_Crampton 07 March 2008 02:56:28AM 0 points [-]

In junior high, read the manuals thoroughly but never played. Graduating class of 18 in the middle of farm country with nearest neighbor more than a mile away...bit tough to get a game together.

Comment author: anonymous4 07 March 2008 03:15:17AM 0 points [-]

This is a good story about a guy who went on a pilgrimage to see Gygax last year

http://www.believermag.com/issues/200609/?read=article_lafarge

Comment author: Robin2 07 March 2008 03:57:09AM 0 points [-]

Perhaps you could call Gygax a pioneer in developing virtual reality.

Comment author: Evil_Mike 07 March 2008 05:50:46AM 0 points [-]

My friends and I play every week.

I feel that way too; the world is a lesser place without him...

http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0536.html

http://nodwick.humor.gamespy.com/ffn/index.php

Comment author: Will_Pearson 07 March 2008 04:40:06PM 0 points [-]

Why not take this time to deal with some irrationalities surrounding death and the identity?

Please tell me what happens in physical terms when someone dies? It is obviously not as simple as a stopped heart/brain activity if you take the transhumanist view of things.

How many potential different human beings are there? Are they all different in important ways (e.g. how many apples they remember having eaten). Should we mourn when one human being eats an apple and thus changes his memories and therefore the potential human that he is.

If not how many potential importantly different humans are there?

Identity (and the destruction of the same) is one of the things that people have a lot of trouble being rational about.

Comment author: Peter_Kaku 07 March 2008 05:11:58PM 0 points [-]

Resurrection spell?

Comment author: Doug_S. 09 March 2008 03:59:33AM 4 points [-]

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas