The loss of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax means that there is no longer a first-person accounting of the creation of Dungeons & Dragons that can be told. Danielle Bunten-Berry, one of gaming’s visionary pioneers is also gone. Lord British has gray in that little ponytail he’s worn for all those years. Time marches on, formats get lost and valuable information that exists only the heads of some of these people is lost forever.
I did a quick check on Ebay for old Infocom games. While there are places online where you can still play these games, how many people remember how awesome the Infocom boxes were? Opening one was an experience in itself with supplementary materials and goodies that are now very rare. These boxes tell a story about an important chapter of gaming history, in packaging, in marketing and more. It’s not enough to merely have the game as a digital copy — the package itself is an artifact. Please note that this is not nostalgia talking. Gaming is no longer a subculture. When almost everyone in the Westernized world under the age of 30 plays these games, these games are the culture. Context is important.
That’s another reason to remember Dave Arneson. One of bitterest ironies of the invention of the hit point is that the creation of this mechanistic system for determining the health of a character was originally designed to promote imagination, not stifle it. Later in that same interview, Arneson says:
I tried out EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. I liked Dark Age of Camelot better than EverQuest, but they were both okay. You can form a party like you do in a D&D game, but your party can only “kind of” cooperate with each other. It’s just not the same thing as actually being together in a group and doing it. Something gets lost in the translation. I started the Neverwinter Nights series and am looking forward to getting the new one. That’s pretty much the only one I’ve found that really has any role-playing elements in it.
Again, context is important. Arneson was a person who created the hit point in order to promote role-playing and allow players to get more involved with their characters. He and Gygax took their wargaming experience and tried to translate that into an experience that was designed to be primarily social, not mechanistic. Yet by and large, what comes out of their creation is an obsessive focus on loot and levels and ever-growing power. As future MMOs and RPG are created and gaming moves into bright new eras, there will be more arguments over what a “true” RPG is, the best way to create MMOs, how to properly design new social networks through gaming and much more.
One may agree or disagree with Arneson as with any other game creator. As these arguments shape the future of gaming though, it’s important to remember what the creator of the hit point/leveling-by-combat D&D system wanted his game system to do when deciding what we want to do with his creation. It’s important to remember the past — even if it’s only as the point from which we want to break.
In the meantime, thanks for the fun Dave.