Some of the hobby’s founding fathers are still with us, and we hope they stay. Gygax and Arneson are sadly gone, but David Wesely (the first founder) is still with us, along with Mike Monard and others who were lucky enough to be a part of the early campaigns. We owe these leading lights our sincerest gratitude for sure, and if we’re fortunate enough meet them at a convention somewhere we should shake their hands and tell them so. Their efforts in the formation of our beloved pastime can’t be underestimated. But in our rush to recognize these pioneers we forget to cite the other founders of the hobby…
I’m talking about the innumerable folks (not just fathers; women were a part of it too) who bought and played these games in complete isolation from Lake Geneva. People who would never attend GenCon or meet Gygax or Arneson even when they still could. These players added and changed things and house ruled like crazy. They crafted innovations to the hobby, superior innovations that made their way into future games, including the latest version of everyone’s favorite. These people also made the hobby - and in a big way.
|From the 1983 Menlo School Yearbook|
I remember playing in my friend’s garage in 1979. It was Saturday and some of us were planning to watch the new Buck Rogers when it premiered, although a few (in the grip of puberty no doubt) were secretly looking forward to Charlie’s Angels. Kiss You All Over by Exile played on a nearby car radio, the music slipping in and out like the Doppler shift of a passing train. It was the last gasp of summer; a muggy recollection of July with a crisp breeze straight out of the future. A shape of things to come. We had the rulebooks, garish little things with amateur art, mere doodles from fifth period Math class...
But the rules were just a guide. Gary said so. We played, solved problems, and worked together as a team. We used what we liked and changed what we didn’t. Make no mistake, we owed Gygax and Arneson big for the brilliant content they created. Sleep was a cool spell, and one we didn't have to develop ourselves. Ditto for mind flayers and the dreadful beholder. And dragons. You name it. But most of what we did didn't require any rules at all, and we were more than happy to fill in the blanks with personal innovations.
Multiply this a thousand times over and you'll realize just how many people (gamers who'd never met Gygax and weren't hinging on his every word) were involved in spreading the hobby and keeping it alive. Gaming's lifeblood was never this pantheon of founding fathers proclaiming from the Olympus of Lake Geneva. It was always in the hands of those who played the games and made the hobby all their own. This might sound blasphemous (and ungrateful), but I don't mean it that way. As a game designer I'd love to blow sunshine up my own ass, believe me; but there's nothing I do that others haven't done.
The founding fathers created the first games and, for a while, crafted new content for their little experiment. This fact can't be discounted. And the Mike Monards of the world are absolutely the experts on what happened in those formative sessions. Pick their brains if you're lucky enough to know them. But Dave and Mike are not experts on what happened in my friend's garage and they never claimed to be. My expertise is similarly limited because there's lots of garages out there - and the garage is where our hobby truly exists.