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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Game launched Gygax to fame

Dungeons and Dragons co-creator passed away Tuesday

By Kayla Bunge/Janesville Gazette

Gary Gygax, co-creator of the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons and father of the role-playing phenomenon, died Tuesday morning at his home in Lake Geneva. He was 69.

Brian Hurley/VIP
Gary Gygax serves up ice cream during a fundraiser in this 2005 file photo.
He had been suffering from health problems for several years, including an abdominal aneurysm, said his wife, Gail Gygax.

Gygax and Dave Arneson developed Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 using medieval characters and mythical creatures. The game became a hit, particularly among teen boys, and eventually was turned into video games, books and movies.

True to Gygax's creative nature, the game taught its players to think outside the box, his wife said.

Dungeons & Dragons players create fictional characters and carry out their adventures with the help of complicated rules. The quintessential geek pastime, it spawned a wealth of copycat games and later inspired a whole genre of computer games that's still growing in popularity.

"It set the foundation of modern computer games," Gail Gygax said. "What's so generic to young gamers, that all came from Gary's work. That's the mark he's made on the world."

Gygax always enjoyed hearing from the game's legion of devoted fans, many of whom would stop by his home to sit on the wrap-around porch and talk shop, his wife said.

"We bought many bus tickets home, because they'd spend every last dime getting here," Gail Gygax said.

Despite his declining health, he hosted weekly games of Dungeons & Dragons as recently as January, she said.

"It really meant a lot to him to hear from people ... about how he inspired them to become a writer, a doctor, a lawyer," Gail Gygax said. "He really enjoyed that."

Born Ernest Gary Gygax, he grew up in Chicago and moved to Lake Geneva when he was 8. Gygax's father, a Swiss immigrant who played violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, read fantasy books to his only son and hooked him on the genre, his wife said.

"My imagination was given to me by my father," Gygax told The Janesville Gazette in 2004.

Gygax dropped out of high school but took anthropology classes at the University of Chicago for a while, his wife said. He was working as an insurance underwriter in the 1960s, when he began playing war-themed board games.

But Gygax wanted to create a game that involved more fantasy. To free up time to work on that, he left the insurance business and became a shoe repairman, she said.

Gygax also was a prolific writer and wrote dozens of fantasy books. In 1968 he founded GenCon, the longest-running gaming convention in the world.

Gygax is survived by his wife and six children.

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