Some forty years ago, the first copies of Dungeons & Dragons were sold. The specific date is a bit fuzzy, but Jon Peterson has laid out the evidence on his blog and January 26th is one of the likelier candidates, and why not?
A forty-year-old franchise is a big deal, and Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson deserve our respect for creating something that could so adroitly carve out its own niche and endure and sustain itself on a changing, competitive marketplace. However, D&D is only a small part of what came out of that Lake Geneva garage in 1974. It launched an industry, created a new genre of games and birthed a peculiar strain of cultural influence that pops up in unexpected places.
To me, the most important thing is that it originated a social hobby. Now starting on their fifth decade, role-playing games have brought people together around the same table, same online chatroom, same larp venue – and unlike sports, they are not competitive. It is just “us”, the “them” are in the fiction. I’ve sat at that table for some seventeen years now, and around it I have seen lifelong friendships form and romance bloom. It brings people together and facilitates communication.
It is also a creative hobby, a “game of the imagination” as the Dead Alewives once described it. Around that table, stories come into being, from slapstick to tragedy and all things in between. I have seen sonnets, songs and short stories arise from that table, and witnessed the formation of epic legends. I’ve also laughed so hard I fell off my chair.
Sure, it’s not always all these things and sometimes it’s none of these things, and not everyone plays for these things. It is these things sufficiently often, however, that I keep returning to that table. Those are the things that make this the most rewarding thing I have ever done.
So, I wish Dungeons & Dragons and the entire role-playing game hobby a happy birthday.
And here’s a couple of songs from way back: