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A Game for Gary

April 21, 2008

Scott Jon Siegel took me up on my request for designers to create a game in memory of E. Gary Gygax who passed away recently.

His game was published in The Escapist. It’s called Gygaxian, and is the first memorial game that I know of.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Marty Wagner permalink
    April 22, 2008 4:21 am

    It’s definitely awesome to see the game design community paying tribute to one of its forefathers through memorial games, something that not only shows class and respect, but also can produce some innovative games. Gygaxian sounds like a really intriguing game, with the whole concept of DMs competing for creation control, all while shaping a unique, “Exquisite Corpse” like emergent narrative for the sole “player.” On top of being a very nice dedication to Gary Gygax, it is also a cool, innovative game in its own right.

    As this medium matures, this scenario is going to become more and more prevalent. As much of the game design community is far from thinking about retirement, and most of our masters so to speak are still active designers, odds are memorial games will not be something to take real formation until decades from now. However, the whole idea of designing off the idea of honoring an influential designer is something that is still relevant today, and will likely only become more so as the medium continues to grow.

    On a slightly different note, I would say that The Sims is, in a sense, a memorial game. Not only did Will Wright dedicate it to Dani Berry, but it also incorporated some of her design theories within the game. So while it wasn’t designed specifically to be a tribute to Dani Berry, it still was one in its own way.

  2. April 22, 2008 6:45 pm

    While it might be the first memorial game, there have been a lot of memorials placed into online games for a long time.

    In Meridian 59, one of the zones is named “Sweetgrass Prairies” after a character named Sweetgrass that played M59 before launch and passed away. More recently we added a puzzle/event where a statue of a character who passed away, Lady Phoenix, gives people information on how to navigate a deadly maze. We designed her to be a helpful figure since people said her assistance to others was her defining characteristic.

    I’ve heard of similar parts that have been put into other online games to memorialize people who have passed away, particularly developers or family members of developers. This seems to be quite common when you have a community of people who care about each other.

  3. April 22, 2008 8:52 pm

    Oh, adding dedications in memory of so-and-so have been in games for ages. But the point of this exercise was a tribute within the medium itself. The same way that the song “American Pie” was a tribute to a musician in the form of song, or… well, I can’t think of an example offhand, but I’m sure some poet has written an ode to another poet at some point.

    And that’s why this game is important, and we’re seeing history in the making right now.

  4. April 23, 2008 9:38 pm

    Actually, the Lady Phoenix dedication was more than just a dedication. As I said, we added a gameplay elements to incorporate a memorial of the person into Meridian 59; it was a whole “mini-game”.

    I think you’re engaging in a bit of hyperbole here, Ian. While the game is interesting and a nice intellectual challenge, I wonder if a game really a fitting memorial. In this specific case, how does the game inform people about Gygax beyond the name? This game is lightweight, compared to the rules-heavy games of the original D&D mechanics; most of the rules-lite innovations came later after D&D was no longer king of the hill. In a way, it’s like playing jazz music at a country musician’s funeral. As I said in my example about Lady Phoenix in my previous comment, we took a lot of time to try to make the memorial appropriate to the person.

    No disrespect to Scott Jon Siegel’s work or the memory of Gary Gygax intended, of course. Just taking a deeper look at “games as memorials” from my own point of view as a professional game developer.

  5. April 24, 2008 1:36 pm

    I suppose I should weigh in here. More than just the name, the “memorial” aspect of Gygaxian was the focus on improvisation, as bound by rules.

    As I see it, Gary Gygax’s contribution to game design was his love of storytelling, and his development of a system to allow for it. My purpose with Gygaxian was to take the storytelling role in D&D, and make it the focus of the gameplay. In doing so, I felt I was paying homage to Gygax’s legacy — that is, the role of imagination in gaming.

    Of course, this is simply my interpretation of a man whose legacy likely affected millions, each in very different ways. I would be interested to hear how others define Gygax’s contributions to the field.

  6. April 25, 2008 5:51 am

    Scott, I really don’t want to come across as being a terrible critic here. As I said, I think this is an interesting, intellectual challenge.

    From my point of view, a lot of what your game embodies is what paper RPGs have evolved into after many years of development: a strong focus on storytelling and interesting rules that aren’t all about winning or losing combats. D&D, and going back further to the original Chainmail rules, had its origin in wargaming and was very structured and rules-bound. Even the earliest role-playing games that Dave Arneson refers to (David Wesely’s Braunstien game, for example) had lots of rules surrounding the role-playing of specific characters in the game.

    And, while D&D did suggest that the rules were made to be broken, a lot of what made the game for people was the structure, the tables, and the resolution systems. When you talk about video games, it’s the formal rules that have had the biggest effect. Sadly, we’re still struggling with how to tell a story as meaningful to the players as our old (or even current!) D&D campaigns were to us, especially in the MMO space where I dwell. But, we definitely do have levels, hit points, and (secret) dice rolls behind the scenes!

    At any rate, I also understand that you didn’t want to go on forever for a game design like this. I think that a proper game memorializing Gygax needs to have a lot more lookup tables than you had. 🙂

    As I said, this is not to disrespect the work, just sharing my point of view. And, one thing I would like designers and aspiring game designers to realize: Gygax shows us that the people who made our history are not with us forever. If you get a chance to listen or talk to some of the people that have made history, make sure to take it. I’ve had the absolute pleasure to listen to Dave Arneson and David Wesely talk about the early days of role-playing. I think a good game designer needs a good sense of the history of our medium to really understand it well, and I really do enjoy the chance to learn about our history.

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