By Joseph Carriker
Last week, the gaming community was faced with the loss of one of our own once again: Aaron Allston, well-known designer for Champions and Dungeons & Dragons, and author of numerous novels, particularly in the Star Wars universe. And though I didn’t know Mr. Allston myself, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of some loss—a loss that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, to be honest. It wasn’t the first time this had happened, of course. There’ve been others who have passed, our luminaries and founding fathers, in recent memory, and I found myself experiencing the same kind of loss. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons, died in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve certainly known who they were, in every case. It’s hard not to, if you pay any sort of attention to the names on that credits page. I’ve played their games, and read their material over the years. In nearly every instance, these were folks who I’d had the chance to meet (or at least correspond with, in some fashion), but I couldn’t claim to know them. Many of my friends and co-workers certainly have, and I think that’s been part of it. I’m a little embarrassed by that sense of loss. Do I as someone who has only experienced their work have a right to that?
I think that at the end of the day, though, there’s a good reason for it. These aren’t just some people who’ve passed"they are the people who’ve been at our gaming tables with us over the years. We’ve built friendships and great memories through the vehicle of this work, and in a real way, it’s hard not to feel impacted in some fashion when those who created those things pass on. We’ve invested emotion in these memories, and those memories include not just the people at the tables with us, the games we were playing, the worlds we were exploring.
In a way, these folks are just as much a part of those great memories as the people who were physically there, even if the context is different. The context of our grief is different, as well. They leave loved ones, friends and family behind, and part of the embarrassment I’ve felt is rooted there. It’s hard not to think, "Who the hell am I? I’m just a dude who enjoyed their work," like there were some kind of minimum connection necessary to justify a sense of grief and loss.
But that’s also it. As someone who also creates game material, I do feel connected to those who play the games I work on. Though folks in this industry often groan at the thought of facing down a convention of people telling us about their characters, we’re still there, because even with dread is the joy of hearing people enjoy the things we loved creating. In some way, I and my co-creators are at those gaming tables as surely as Gary, Dave, Aaron, and other creators have all been at ours.
This sense isn’t unique to us, of course—people grieve over musicians, actors, writers and artists all the time. But our game designers, writers, artists, and creators are our people, and their work stands out in our memories, in a way that’s uniquely ours.
So here’s to those who’ve shared our gaming tables over the years, through the often-lonely work they’ve put into creating these games we all love so well. You’re friends, and sometimes even family, whether you know it or not. And even those who are no longer with us will continue to share a place at our tables for a long time to come.