Exit the dragon master

The Independent has a good tribute to Gary Gygax.

If D&D is a nerd’s pastime, then there are a lot of nerds around. Guesstimate calculations – it’s impossible to reach a precise total – suggest that Dungeons & Dragons has about 25 million regular players worldwide. Certainly Gygax made more than $1bn in sales since he invented it in 1974, a figure which he claimed surprised him, saying he thought he would have made about $50,000. And the game’s legacy has been massive. “Interactive fiction” – the first commercial example being Infocom’s Zork of 1981 – occupies the same landscape of abandoned mine-workings, semi-medieval villages, mysterious strangers and supernatural monsters as D&D, sometimes quite explicitly, as in the Infocom trilogy of Enchanter, Sorcerer and Spellbreaker. Sophisticated graphic games such as World of Warcraft, Quake and Doom draw so heavily on the D&D mindset that it’s hard to imagine them without it. MMUDs – “Massive Multi-Player Online Dungeons” – make their debt clear in the name, and you might even view Second Life as a D&D game without a quest. D&D reanimated the fantasy genre of fiction, whether straight or, as in the case of Terry Pratchett (whose first Discworld novel appeared in 1983), comic; geeks, after all, notoriously love intricate jokes. From the sublime – the Armoured Bears in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – to Xena, Warrior Princess, the culture is rich in material which seems to link back to Gygax.

It’s not true that Zork was the first commercial interactive fiction — Scott Adams founded Adventure International in 1979. While the Scott Adams games were very minimalistic, “Adventureland” (1978 or 9) seems to have the honor of being the first commercial computer game for home PCs.