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Today, in 1938, Ernest Gary Gygax was born in Chicago, IL. He would go on to create a gaming and publishing empire, built on math-driven storytelling and gem-like Platonic solids dice (co-creating the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons).

Anybody who’s ever played Dungeons & Dragons will know why Gary Gygax is suited to be celebrated in a Maker Birthday shout out. When I first got into the hobby, and oh did I ever get into the hobby, I was penniless, just out of high school. My gaming group and I could barely afford the essential game components. Everything else we made ourselves. We fashioned our own miniatures and dungeon furniture from clay, learning basic ceramics in the process, built our own gaming tables and scenery, learning carpentry and all the basic miniature modeling and scenery-making skills. And, of course, we spent countless hours sketching and mapping out worlds, characters, and epic adventures within those worlds. And that was all before actually playing the game!

It’s staggering to me to consider the impact that Gary Gygax, D&D, and RPG have had on popular culture, the ethos of imagining and modeling whatever world you want, and in the acculturation of generations of nerds who got to experiment with social interactions (from within an accepting tribe) to help them negotiate the wider world of Muggles.

So thanks, Mr. Gygax. You were instrumental in giving us geeks “permission to play,” and in showing us how we could combine our intellects and our interest in math, science, history, and technology, with our imaginations and our ability to render the multiverses inside our heads. Happy Birthday.

In celebration of Gary’s birthday (who, BTW, died in 2008), why not share some of your D&D/RPG stories, and especially, how these games might have inspired you as a maker.

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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