Friday 7 March 2008

Dungeons and Dragons, the Rise of Fantasy and Celebrating Imagination

The recent BBC4 series The Worlds of Fantasy had my lovely critique group earnestly discussing children's fantasy this week.

In the course of a discussion that ranged from Did Star Wars lose its credibility with the introduction of the Ewoks? (at which point my 13 year old son suddenly appeared and said, "I love ewoks!") to What is Fantasy? we lurched into an aside about Dungeons and Dragons.

Unbeknownst to us, the creator of Dungeons and Dragons, Gary Gygax had died that day.

Gygax had not been happy with the evolution of D&D from a role-playing game to online computer game.
These days, pen-and-paper role-playing games have largely been supplanted by online computer games. Dungeons & Dragons itself has been translated into electronic games, including Dungeons & Dragons Online. Mr. Gygax recognized the shift, but he never fully approved. To him, all of the graphics of a computer dulled what he considered one of the major human faculties: the imagination.

“There is no intimacy; it’s not live,” he said of online games. “It’s being translated through a computer, and your imagination is not there the same way it is when you’re actually together with a group of people. It reminds me of one time where I saw some children talking about whether they liked radio or television, and I asked one little boy why he preferred radio, and he said, ‘Because the pictures are so much better.’ ” New York Times, March 5, 2008
Chris Klimowitz, my valued critique colleague, had this to say:
A good 4-6 years of my life were richly enhanced by role-playing games as well as strategic board games. Good to see that as an era it hasn’t passed with its co-founder, but has just transformed. (Gygax's views on) online versus paper gaming could be comparable by degrees with books versus other media ...all having something to offer, though hardcopy books too-often considered an outdated medium by those who embrace technological trends exclusively.

The role of imagination – that’s what really fuelled the experience of role-play. It’s interesting to compare the engagement of imagination in different media as well as the social dynamics.

Well, we certainly benefit from having a fuller range of experiences any which way it’s looked at.
Amen, Christopher.

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