Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Throwing Gary Gygax Under the Bus for Justice

Okay, this is the same guy that said he’d “be hard-pressed to think of more than one or two fantasies that didn’t adhere to the ‘Mediaeval-ish world’ trope in the 1960s and 1970s.” He has basically no familiarity with the fantasy literature of this period before about 1977. He’s the same guy that went nuts the other day thinking that my Appendix N series is woefully incomplete.

But hey… check out File770’s “Aaron” as he unloads on Gary Gygax here:

As others have noted, the list in appendix N isn’t a list of “fantasy fandom as it existed in the 1970s” as Jeffro claims, but rather the specific tastes of a single individual. I’d go even further than that though. Given the publications dates of most of the books included in Appendix N, the list could best be characterized as “the books Gygax remembered reading in his teens and early twenties”.

When one considers the various time commitments Gygax had in the years leading up to the publication of Appendix N: A full-time job as an insurance underwriter for many years that included a very long commute to and from Chicago and Lake Geneva, raising five children, a wargaming addiction that (if Empire of Imagination is to be believed) occupied him five or six nights a week, writing articles for gaming fanzines and publications like The General, actually organizing what became Dungeons & Dragons, and so on, it seems like he probably didn’t get a whole lot of fiction reading done between the early 1960s and the late 1970s. Pretending that his list from Appendix N is somehow representative of fans of the genre in 1979 is simply silly.

And note that rather than looking into any sort of evidence regarding what Gygax might actually have read or not read, this thread devolves from here into people picking over whether or not the man was a decent enough father and husband. It’s godawful.

You know, I should probably ignore stuff like this at some point, but I’m going to go ahead and address this anyway. In the first place, we’ve seen something very similar to this in the weeks since Leigh Brackett’s centennial. People like this have a weird commitment to some sort of made up narrative about the past. When they experience cognitive dissonance related to this, they don’t think. They just react. Sure, they lash out at the people bringing what to them is bad news. But more than that, they will start making stuff up that diminishes the contributions of science fiction and fantasy greats rather than give one inch on their false impressions about how things “ought” to be. And this does matter because people end up repeating these fairy tales so often and in so many places, the credulous end up taking this stuff for fact.

So let’s set the record straight on this.

I asked the designer of Tunnels & Trolls– Ken St. Andre— what he thought of this very question and he said, “I suppose you could consider people like Gary and me to be super fantasy fans of the time. But we weren’t all that unusual.” But maybe Ken St. Andre’s wrong or biased. That’s certainly possible. I mean, Michael Moorcock was wrong about Leigh Bracket, right?

So let’s look a little closer to a firsthand account from someone a little closer to Gary Gygax: James Ward, the designer of Metamorphosis Alpha. How did he meet Gary Gygax? Check out issue 203 of Dragon Magazine where he recounts a run-in with him at the Lake Geneva News Agency in 1974. Just like comic book fans lining up every Wednesday at your local shop, these guys went through the stacks picking out the paperbacks they wanted to read from the latest arrivals. When they passed each other, they realized that both of them had chosen the exact same books. Five books each, and completely identical choices! Sounds like sorta like the “super fantasy fans” Ken St. Andre was telling me about, doesn’t it…?

Now, I’ve mentioned previously how you can confirm that Gygax’s selections in Appendix N were representative of the times by looking at what got translated for Italy’s burgeoning science fiction and fantasy market. But I want to point out how revolutionary role-playing games were. They were so different and the rules for these things were sufficiently unclear that people practically had to be initiated into them. I know they drove me crazy trying to figure them out when I was in the sixth grade.

Do you think that the designers of the early role-playing games had any incentive to do anything other than cater to the expectations and preferences of fantasy and science fiction buffs of their day? People knew what to do with these crazy games because they could immediately grasp that they would allow them to sit down and play games pretending to be Conan or Cugel or Dumarest. It was a brand new type of game, but the style and tone and emphasis was totally in line with how people assumed fantasy and science fiction should work. These games had to be like that or else they would never get off the ground!

The games were perfectly in sync with their times. Both the designers of the games and their audiences would have been familiar with pretty much the same fantasy and science fiction authors.

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3 responses to “Throwing Gary Gygax Under the Bus for Justice

  1. jlv61560 December 18, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    “Aaron” should just quit while he’s behind. It’s a pity they apparently don’t teach critical thinking, logic, or analysis in schools any more. Use of any one of those essential tools might have prevented him from setting up a strawman argument and then leaping from false conclusion to false conclusion quite so easily. Ah well, I guess we’re all just products of our environment…or something.

  2. Gaiseric December 18, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    As an aside; I had COMPLETELY forgotten about that ad running in comic books and magazines and stuff when I was a kid. Wow, nostalgia!

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