Monday, March 31, 2008

Dead Pool March Update

It's been an interesting month, but all of our pool entrants are still yet to score.

The month began on the 2nd with the death at age 82 of Paul Raymond, respected publisher of gems of the British literary establishment, Razzle and Men Only.

On the 4th as previously reported, the world farewelled E. Gary Gygax, co-creator of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons and widely considered the godfather of modern gaming.

On the 5th we heard the sad news that actor Patrick Swayze had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and has approximately five weeks to live. The outpouring of emotion following this announcement was huge, and our hearts go out to Patrick and his family.

Also on the 5th was the death of computer science professor Joseph Weizenbaum, creator of the classic computer game ELIZA in 1966. ELIZA was a text-based game in which the computer acted as psychologist, responding to keywords entered by the user. Infuriating, but fun and very addictive, ELIZA prompted a lot of early discussion about the potential applications and the potential dangers of Artificial Intelligence.

On the 16th, US actor Ivan Dixon passed away at the age of 70. Ivan was best known for playing Sergeant "Kinch" Kinchloe (the black guy) in classic 1960s TV show Hogan's Heroes.

On the 18th, award-winning director Anthony Minghella, famed for The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley, died at the age of 54 after complications from throat cancer surgery.

The 19th saw the death of British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. I've already said quite a lot about this. And I'm still quite upset.

Finally, on the 25th we farewelled a man who has brought so much happiness to so much of the world. You may not know his name, but he has helped you through hangovers, he has been with you on those early morning drives, and his legacy will remain for many a year.

Herb Peterson, inventor of the Bacon and Egg McMuffin, has passed away at the age of 89.

Rest in peace, man. Rest In Peace.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

March is turning out to be a rough month for the nerds.

On the 4th we lost Gary Gygax, a giant of the gaming and fantasy world, and today Arthur C. Clarke, renowned writer, scientist, futurist, humanist and visionary passed away at his home in Sri Lanka.

Arthur C Clarke I'm not going to attempt to offer a detailed obituary for Clarke. Most of it is well known, and anything else I know of his life is just what's on Wikipedia. I don't have much to add to that.

All I do want to say is how much this man's vision and work has touched my life.

As a child I loved his television show Mysterious World. It opened up my curiosity for science. It showed me that asking questions was the way to knowledge, and that even the strangest of phenomena could be studied and understood and explained.

As a teenager I read and loved his novels and short stories. His writing combined the very best of storytelling with his extraordinary visions of the future. These visions were at once optimistic and cautionary. He knew that mankind could achieve great things but also had the potential, if compassion were missing, to wreak havoc on itself and its world.

This compassion was the key to his storytelling genius. In every single one of Clarke's stories, he never lost sight of the need to make it about people. Technology and its impacts were only ever important to the extent that they affected people.

Clarke's philosophies, both scientific and storytelling, were perfectly crystallised in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film's theme of man's evolution, from Neanderthal to star child, is mesmerising and deeply moving. The film shows us that man can reach for the stars, and that great things await him when he gets there.

At the age of 90, I guess Clarke's passing is not totally unexpected.

There will be shock and sadness as the news is announced, but I think this is because people like Clarke just seem like they could live forever.

His work and his name certainly will.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vale Gary Gygax

Nerds the world over are mourning the death on Tuesday of E. Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons and the father of the modern role-playing game.

Gary Gygax While I was into some role-playing games as a kid, I wasn't hugely into D&D. The fantasy genre always left me a little cold, and D&D was always a bit too Tolkein for my liking.

Some fantasy-buff friends of mine would spend days at a time building D&D characters, creating scenarios and drawing ridiculously detailed maps of mountain paths and dungeons. I'd sit and watch for a while, play the odd game with them, but soon get bored and go read some Asimov or Lovecraft.

Even in the role-playing world it was always the horror and science fiction genres for me, with games like Chill, The Call of Cthulhu and Paranoia.

But still, I appreciate that D&D is where it all began.

Almost from inception, D&D managed to engender moral panic in some of the less imaginative sections of society. I remember hearing a lot about this when I was at school in the early 1980s, with D&D being blamed for everything from the rise in teen suicide to the impending apocalypse.

Of course, this only served to increase its exposure and popularity. Boggle just didn't get that sort of press.

D&D's influence on popular culture in general and gaming in particular cannot be denied. Its notion of immersive and freeform gameplay has influenced a new generation of computer games, with World of Warcraft and Second Life just two of the most obvious examples.

But even this isn't really new. These recent MMORPGs are just the latest in a long line that started way back with text-based adventure games on the very earliest home personal computers. D&D's genesis in the mid-70s coincided with the introduction of the first PCs, and those text-based adventure games were simple attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a D&D round-table.

The tabletop game still exists of course, although its popularity has taken a hit from the ubiquity and quality of the gaming console. But in any high school or university you'll still be able to find, huddled away in some dark corner, a group of nerds quietly rolling their dice and going on their heroic quests.

Gygax really started something special with D&D. It continues to this day and Gygax will be remembered for as long as nerds continue to gather together, fuelled by too much pizza and coke, to lay waste to the armies of orcs and demons in their imaginations.

And when the battles are done, there'll be more than a few mugs of virtual mead raised in Gary's honour tonight.