One of the creators of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax, has died. While the game's heyday has passed, its cultural influence bestrides gaming and how the media views young people.
ONLINE ROLE-PLAY GAMING
Without Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) it is hard to imagine the massively successful World of Warcraft. Both games immerse the user in a fantasy realm which appears on the surface to owe more than a little to Lord of the Rings.
Never say die (Picture: Hugh Nelson)
Both are based on systems where characters can improve their attributes by gaining credit for game actions. Gains come from experience or honour points in World of Warcraft, following on from the experience points scheme in D&D. Both games have also converted early cult appeal into global phenomenon status.
D&D completed its journey into the cultural mainstream, when it featured in a scene near the beginning of Steven Spielberg's ET, without the need for any explanation. Younger members of the audience might very well have played it or known people who had. Older members of the audience probably knew about it through the media.
THE GEEK RAMPANT
Geek was, and remains to many, an offensive term. It has been a stick with which to beat anybody who does not enjoy all of the cultural and social values of the majority. Anybody who had an interest in computers, science fiction, fantasy literature or collecting comics could be easily dismissed as a geek once upon a time.
And the key thing with the classic "geek" pastimes was that they were - except for the occasional convention - typically fairly solitary pursuits.
The original dungeon master, Gary Gygax, has died
Dungeons & Dragons had a number of effects. It brought so-called geeks together in a social setting as a matter of course, it quickly spread out into the mainstream, and it signalled that money could be made out of catering for previously niche audiences.
The game has also left a legacy of subcultures like live action role-play and online gaming, where there is a pronounced social element. The world we live in now, where "gaining friends" on social networking sites is regarded as a totally reasonable pastime, is a very different world to that in which Dungeons & Dragons made its debut in 1974.
REVIVING FANTASY MANIA
Fantasy can be regarded as perhaps the oldest genre in storytelling, but its popularity in the modern era has ebbed and flowed.
Despite the protestations of creators and fans that D&D was not a slavish aping of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it seems fair to suggest that it provided another source of enthusiasm for Tolkien's classics as well as boosting interest in a host of successors like David Eddings and Terry Pratchett. Games inspired by D&D such as Call of Cthulhu created new fans for authors like HP Lovecraft.
D&D's success in the late 1970s and 1980s represents a high watermark in the popularity and ubiquity of the fantasy genre along with the original publication in 1954/5 of the Lord of the Rings and the recent film adaptations.
TEENAGE GAMING MORAL PANICS
Moral panics about young people have been about since the dawn of the mass media, but Dungeons & Dragons cemented a link in the mind of worried parents between gaming and fears of effects on teenager's behaviour.
Today the focus is much more likely to be on violent video games like Manhunt, but in the 1980s there were people worrying about games like D&D. It was linked by campaigners to a number of suicides, the suggestion being that teenagers had become so immersed in the game that they had struggled to separate fantasy and reality.
Now paranoid parents would be more likely to suffer misty-eyed nostalgia over the era when gaming involved constant and varied use of the young mind's imagination, as opposed to today's games which typically offer the user images where once there was only the mind's eye.
Online gaming like World of Warcraft is suffering its fair share of concerns, particularly in the Far East, where there are fears of widespread addiction and detrimental effects on intensive users' health.
The message in circulation has remained constant since the rise of D&D - immersive game-playing by young people should be a cause of concern for adults.
Before Dungeons & Dragons, anyone wielding a dodecahedral or icosahedral die in the playground would have been regarded with wide-eyed bemusement.
During the game's popularity and in the wake of the slew of imitators it inspired, they became a common sight for some years.
Even with the rise of the video game, Dungeons and Dragons' influence rolls on.
Below is a selection of your comments.
Thank God for D&D. As a spotty, overweight 12-year-old in 1977, too uncool to be a punk, and not balanced enough to ride a skateboard, what would life have been like without D&D? The evenings and weekends were spent with like-minded kids, that were a little off-the-wall (aka geeks) in a world of fantasy role-play. Tomes such as the players' handbook, Dungeon Master's guide and Monsters Manual were standard reading material. RIP Gary Gygax, you were a true visionary.
Steve Thorpe, Peterborough
Still play every week and have been doing so for many years now. D&D is a good excuse to get to gether with friends for an evening and just relax and have fun. It's hard to worry about the day you had in the office when you're wondering if your beloved *insert character here* is going to survive tonight's epic battle - oh the fickle randomness of a 1d20 roll.
Jon E, Reigate
Gygax's legacy lives on... why just recently I entered a 10 by 10 room to discover an Orc guarding a chest.
10th level Fighter/Mage, The Dungeon
This man's legacy is immense. My friends and I spent practically every week-end of our formative years camped round a dining table playing D&D and we're proud to say our campaign's still running after 15 years. Gary Gygax created a social phenomenon based on challenges and interaction which today's younger generation won't get out of modern games consoles or networking sites like Bebo and Facebook etc
James Montgomery, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Its a shame to see ol' Gary pass on, he gave enjoyment to a great many people on this planet and opened the gates for such things as World of Warcraft of which I am an avid player at age 44. As for geek, there is nothing "geeky" or "nerdy" about myself, I look more like Phil Mitchell than Bill Gates but D&D/aD&D stimulated the mind, you could really picture yourself in there, fighting the orcs and dragons, it certainly made me a better person for it I think.
Ian Watson, United Kingdom