Monday, April 20, 2009

Gygax vs Arneson and our Rose-Colored Glasses

There was recently a post/ thread on Grognardia that I came out of self-imposed exile to post on. Some good stuff came up and one in-particular that I wanted to illuminate.

Matthew James Stanham mentioned how people often place the views of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson on the hobby in to philosophical boxes. I've found this to be very true, especially in the past couple years. We see Gygax on one end and Arneson on the other and take a wide variety of quotes over the decades and fabricate a Philosophy of Arneson and Philosophy of Gygax and through the use of colorful and creative mix-matching of quotes come up with dogma according to whichever demigod you choose.

My attitude towards this is that both "philosophies" are absolute poppycock.
It's the same as how various people interpret the books of the bible.

Gary Gygax has made a LOT of quotes over the decades, all in different circumstances and each needs to be taken in context...and with a grain of salt. Dave Arneson did less quoting but the same rules apply. I don't think we can draw too many conclusions without injecting them with our own views. Often I find that reviewers and opinion writers come with their own agenda and bias in mind when they start looking at the materials and when they do, they take the quotes as they see favor of their own agenda or opinion. This is true on both sides of any of these debates/ arguments.

People see what they want to see and twist what they see and read to fit their own views. It's a pretty rare individual that can see beyond their own agenda and see things as they are, take things with a grain of salt, and admit when sources conflict, are ambiguous and especially admit when their own heroes are likely popping off at the mouth saying whatever sounded good at the moment instead of speaking in a thoughtful honest and forthright manner.

While I'm admittedly preferential to Dave Arneson's "Philosophy" over Gary Gygax's "Philosophy"...I'll gladly admit both were on occasion full of shit. Gygax shifted his story around often depending on financial successes and the direction the RPG winds were blowing at the time. Arneson frequently liked to "bait the tiger". This isn't's a fact, and over the years we've all come to know this (whether we admit it or not).

What does this mean?
Can we draw some conclusions about the origins of the game? Sure. We can draw SOME conclusions, but we have to be very careful and take in consideration the circumstances of every quote we draw conclusions from as well as the context (and try and limit our own personal bias).

Again this is something that many opinion columnists cannot seem to do.
Sometimes I fall in to the very same trap.


Matthew James Stanham said...

It is sometimes difficult to disassociate our views and those of others, I think. Especially when our views have been informed (sometimes radically) by external individuals or groups that we then come to idolise, an easier process post mortem, as their side of the dialogue is effectively complete.

As I remarked to Maliszewski in the thread in question, it is not that I disagree with the sentiments put forth (or indeed disagree with much of what was said), just that I find the reconstruction of the views of other people to be a hazardous process.

I am comfortable with discussing quotes and possible or likely views held by individuals, but it did seem to me that we were coming close to defining Gygax and Arneson as proxies for use in a future debate, and that this could obscure what we were using them to be representative of.

Certainly, though, we are all susceptible to such missteps!

Jeff said...

Yep, that's 100% where I was going with this.

I'm okay discussing quotes and trying to cobble some meaning out of what has been said...but we have to look at a larger picture, incorporate the context it was originally spoken in...and even then we're still for the most part guessing.

It's really easy to polarize those two (DA & EGG) and I think it's a mistake to do so.