Somewhere in the multiverse, the polyhedral dice rolled for Gary Gygax. The man whose Dungeons & Dragons was the progenitor of an entire genre of role-playing games has died at 69.
I grew up with Dungeons & Dragons. Back in the analog 1970's, all that virtual reality required were some odd-shaped dice, pencils, graph paper, and above all a passion for all things swords and sorcery and someone to share it with. While the power of persistent digital worlds has supplanted the bibliocentric medium that Gygax created, it owes a tremendous debt to D&D (as D&D, it must be said, owes another to Tolkien).
The ability to imagine oneself as someone else in another time and place where other rules apply and the only limits are your creativity and that of your companions and the Dungeon Master who spins the tale held great appeal. Game speed was never the same as real time, for it took longer to compute the results of medieval combat than the actual melee. It was a game that rewarded preparation and often ran late at night. The best part was the unpredictable element of how players might tackle a challenge or outwit the creator of the adventure (who was very often me, as I loved being the Dungeon Master).
It mostly happens in MMORPG's, now, and as one who still hefts a virtual axe now and then and stomps off on quests in such places, there is much that technology adds to the experience. But role-playing itself has taken a back seat to gaining reputation and advancing in power, and no one responds to my dwarf Sterkfontein in character. No self-respecting D&D dwarf would say "Woot!"
(Tip o' the chainmail coif to Tigerhawk, who knew his way around the Monster Manual back in the day.)