The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gary Gygax, Dungeons and Dragons' inventor dies.

One of the great pastimes of my childhood was pouring over Dungeon's and Dragons tomes, and, on occasions, getting together with enthusiastic others, to play a game of it.

For those who have not heard of this corner of the imagination, Dungeons and Dragons is a role-playing game, in which you take on the role of a character, whose nature is determined to some extent by roles of the die, that generate his or her characteristics. It is the kind of game where you get to play the story, yourself, rather than just passively read about it. As such, I think it is a valuable addition to the mental furniture of any child (or adult for that matter).

Gary Gygax was a name I knew well, from about the age of 11 when I first encountered his pioneering game. It seemed to me then, and does now, that in creating the game with David Arneson, that he had fashioned a rich and complex world. It was a game of many nuances and great complexities, which appealed to me in the way, perhaps it can only appeal to a child, with their sense of endless time stretching ahead. You see, there is no doubt that a considerable investment of time and mental energy was required to come to understand and be able to play the game effectively.

Dungeons and Dragons appealed - and still appeals - to the kind of person others might refer to as "nerds" or "geeks" - and I think there is a reason for this. D and D, as it is also known, provided a complex mental system of representation of a fictional world. Learning how to play it appeals, therefore, to the kind of person who likes to learn systems of representation of the world (such as the sciences). Hence, many of its followers were of that "nerdy" type. Funny enough, Sync magazine once placed Gary Gygax himself in first position of a list of the world's top 50 nerds.

Born on July 27 1938, in Chicago, Ernest Gary Gygax led a life that did not, at times, presage the magnitude of his later achievements. He was a high school dropout, but later returned to education to take a course in Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He earnt his living, in the 1960s, as an insurance salesman - a profession not associated with imagination. Yet, he had already begun to explore the ideas that were later to become Dungeons and Dragons. In his teens, he had begun to devise game rules around miniature figurines. The creation of his fictional world had begun.

Dungeons and Dragons is based on a game called Chainmail, designed for these figurines, he put together with Jeff Perren in 1971. D and D itself debuted in 1974, with David Arneson as a co-creator. Gary Gygax founded Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) to further the game and it was a great success in publishing, book, video game and film rights, in due course. However, he left the company in 1985 (and as I remember at the time, I don't think it was an entirely happy departure).

It may seem a little thing, to invent a game, but Dungeons and Dragons was to spawn a legion of other role-playing games - and eventually inspire hundreds of computer games, based on the notion of playing a role of a statistically determined character in a high fantasy (or sometimes science fiction world). Not a few films, too, owe their origins to his game. After TSR, Gary Gygax also went onto write many fantasy novels, in his Greyhawk series. He was frequently voted one of the most influential people in science fiction.

He died on Tuesday at the age of 69. That he had been a heavy smoker for 50 years may have contributed (he had had a stroke in 2004). The world of fantasy was not his only area of creativity and he leaves behind a wife and six children (three sons and three daughters).

Gary Gygax enriched the childhood imaginations of millions of children (and adults with a child still alive inside) across the world. He gave the world a new pastime. That, I would think, is a good achievement for a single lifetime.

I am thankful for all the childhood hours I spent in the world of Gary Gygax's imagination. It was fun. How strange that I never once considered that, one day, I would write of his passing. Children don't have that kind of thought, generally.

Cheers, Gary.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:40 PM 


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