How Dungeons & Dragons Gave Birth to the Modern Video Game Industry

Of Dice and Men

Video games are an enormous, multibillion-dollar industry, growing like Super Mario on mushrooms. But the business can trace its roots to a simpler time, when a humble game played with pen, paper and a set of funny-looking dice ruled the rec and dorm rooms of geeks, nerds, dreamers and math majors. That game was Dungeons & Dragons.

Writer David Ewalt, a self-described “writer, gamer, geek,” first suspected the deep influence of Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D, as its devotees call it) on contemporary video games when he began writing about the game industry for Forbes Magazine. He talked to the leading minds of the trade and asked them, “What made you want to create video games for a living?”

“Over and over again,” according to Ewalt, “these guys said, ‘Well, I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons when I was a kid’… Almost every single time. It was a really universal experience.”

Ewalt took a deep dive into the subject, and the result is his thorough and entertaining new book on the grandfather of role-playing games, with a peerless title: “Of Dice And Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It.”

According to Ewalt, D&D “invented some concepts that are now everywhere in the game world. Things like having a character that you stay with, and that gets more powerful over time, and that levels up and gains new abilities. Games didn’t do that before Dungeons & Dragons.”

Today’s multi-player games draw their inspiration from D&D’s social nature.

With D&D, “it’s really more like collaborative storytelling. It’s very creative. The people at the table are working together to tell a story and to explain how they’re heroes in the story,” Ewalt said.

“A lot of the very first video games were direct simulations, where people were trying to create a computer program to do what D&D does,” Ewalt said. “[Game developers] were copying it and trying to make it faster by saying, ‘Oh, the computer can do the dice rolling for me.’ … Over time, video games became bigger and more complex and more interesting. And role playing games kind of disappeared.”

Yet, like an ancient, rune-covered scroll, D&D is being dusted off, and it may cast its spell on a new generation of enthusiasts. A game associated with Renaissance fairs may be experiencing a renaissance of its own, as Ewalt sees the first generation of D&D-ers grown-up and pining for the games of yore.

He described the average former player’s feelings for the game as, “Man, I missed that. It was really great to sit down with my friends and play that game. I want to do it again.’”

Just as D&D paved the way for contemporary video games, so too have video games allowed D&D to gain acceptance.

“Video games are now everywhere. Even my grandparents are playing something on their phone,” said Ewalt.

“The idea of Dungeons & Dragons and this idea of a tabletop or role playing game is not as strange as it used to be, so it’s an easier leap to say, ‘You know what, I am going to try [D&D].’ And when people try it,” said Ewalt, “they inevitably say, ‘Wow, that was a lot of fun.’”

Those new to the world of Dungeons & Dragons needn’t fear it.

“It’s real easy to learn,” Ewalt said. “The game can get very complex, but it doesn’t have to be. … It doesn’t take years of practice and memorizing all the rules.”

And the game may have its benefits, as well. “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau played D&D as a youth and, Ewalt said “[Favreau specifically has credited D&D as the tool that taught him how to tell a story. There’s tons of people like that.”

They include Joss Whedon and Stephen Colbert, not to mention video game legends like John Carmack, the co-founder of id Software.

“The game was hugely influential,” Ewalt said. “It taught a lot of us how to tell a story. A lot of people grew up and became novelists, became filmmakers, became writers for TV and movies, and they look back and say, ‘Yeah, that’s where I learned how fun it was to tell stories.’”



Video games becoming required coursework in schools

 SuperBrothers: Sword & Sorcery

Concordia University English professor Darren Wershler assigns SuperBrothers: Sword & Sorcery as a reading in his Contemporary Canadian Fiction course. (Capybara Games)

Minecraft, Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery complement books and problem sets


Starting this fall, in order to graduate, every student at Olds College in Olds, Alta., will have to complete an iPad game in which they open a virtual lemonade stand and gradually build it into a business empire.

Video games, once considered entertainment, are increasingly becoming part of required coursework at all levels of education, complementing traditional learning tools such as problem sets and books.

At Olds College, the Farmville-esque game Lemonade Stand is a central part of the new mandatory Discover Entrepreneurship course.

“What we’ve done is take the things that make computer games so addictive and apply them to education,” said Toby Williams, the college’s director of entrepreneurship and international development.

The college wanted to ensure all of its students were trained in entrepreneurial skills. Williams and her colleagues thought a game might be able to offer the hands-on approach that the college emphasizes.

“It’s not a real-life situation, but it’s close to that.”

Olds College's iPad game Lemonade StandOlds College’s iPad game Lemonade Stand is a central part of a course that covers topics ranging from business planning to marketing to financial topics such as cash flow. (Olds College)The college partnered with two Calgary-based businesses: The GoForth Institute, an online small business training company, which provided the course content; and game developer Robots and Pencils, which built the app.

“This is the first time that something like this has been tried in North America, as far as we know,” said Williams of the project, which cost more than $2 million to develop.

Heather Hood, 33, who is in her last year of a Bachelor of Applied Science in horticulture at Olds College, was one of 600 students who tested the app over the summer. She worked through 12 modules on topics ranging from business planning to marketing to cash flow.

Completing a module unlocks achievements in the game. Finishing the marketing module, for example, gives the students the ability to buy signs and start marketing to customers.

“I was actually disappointed when I finished it,” recalled Hood, who described the course as well-written.

She said she liked the fact that she could work at her own own pace. At the same time, the game displayed other students’ achievements, pressuring her “to not get behind the pack.”

Hood said she thought the game was fun, but isn’t sure about the value of the virtual “practical” experience it provided. She also had mixed feelings about its central role in the course.

“There were times when I found it super-annoying and just wanted to whiz through the gaming part so I could get the reading done,” she recalled, “and there were times when I wanted to see how much money my lemonade stand had made.”

But she said the experience was fun, and might appeal to students younger and more into gaming than herself.

Experience without consequences

“If the outcome is learning in the end, then why not?” says Katrin Becker, an adjuct professor at Royal Roads University who researches and designs educational video games.

She added that games can provide students with learning experiences that could be “painful or dangerous or expensive” in real life — such as running their first business or performing surgery on an animal.

“In a game, they can find out what happens if you do it wrong without any negative consequences to the real world,” Becker said. “And that’s really very valuable.”

Nevertheless, game-based learning modules are still are far less popular in the classroom than traditional methods.

“The shift that needs to happen … is the reawakening of the idea that learning can and should be fun and entertaining,” she said.

Darren Wershler, and English professor at Concordia University in Montreal, acknowledged there are still relatively few course where games appear regularly.

“But I think that will start changing fairly dramatically,” he added.

In Wershler’s contemporary Canadian fiction class at Concordia University in Montreal, video games aren’t just a teaching tool. They have been part of his “reading” list for the course for several years.

This is the second year that students will be assigned to play the indie adventure game Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, made by Toronto-based Capybara Games, in addition to reading the poetry collection Portable Altamont by Brian Joseph Davis and the first volume of Lee O Malley’s comic book series Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, among other works.

Not a gimmick

“Students, I think, are excited to see the things that are important to them reflected in their coursework,” Wershler said.

Not all of them react to it the same way, he said, but roughly the same proportion of the class ends up playing the game as would read the information if it was delivered to them in a book.

Emma Healey, 22, an English literature student who took who took Wershler’s course last year, admitted that at first, “there was a part of me that was like, ‘Oh, a fun gimmick, you’re getting people to play video games in your class so that your class is cool.”

Healey eventually played the game found it a valuable educational experience. “It definitely broadened my thinking about what counts as literature.”

The rise of video games in the classroom isn’t limited to post-secondary institutions.

Toronto elementary school teacher Liam O’Donnell plans to introduce Minecraft, a popular computer game published by Stockholm-based Mojang, that allows the player to design, build and explore virtual worlds, to his Grade 1 class at Withrow Public School this year. The open-ended game game allows players to do everything from fight each other with swords, to build castles, to fall into lava pits if they take a wrong turn.

O’Donnell had great success using the game, which he himself loves, to help students in Grade 4 to 6 who came to him for special help with reading and writing over the past few years.

He found that basing writing exercises on the students’ experiences in the game helped overcome the lack of confidence that made many of them refuse to even try writing. “They were all so filled with their own stories.”

MinecraftToronto teacher Liam O’Donnell plans to use Minecraft, a popular building and exploring game, in his Grade 1 class this year, following his success in using it to motivate Grade 4 and 5 to improve their reading and writing. (Liam O’Donnell)And the games can spawn unexpected learning experiences. One of his Grade 5 students became fascinated by lava in the game and wondered what would happen when lava and water touched each other. O’Donnell encouraged him to approach the question scientifically, to make a prediction and figure out how he would test it in the game.

“He then eventually went off … found out what happens in-game and was amazed, and then wrote up his results,” O’Donnell recalled. “And then he asked me, ‘Is that what happened in real life?'”

With further nudging, the boy — who originally had resisted writing at all — did more research and authored a report about underwater volcanoes.

Challenges for teachers

That may all be encouraging to teachers, but incorporating games into coursework can be more challenging than it looks.

Wershler said he is mindful of the fact that many games take longer to complete than a book, can be expensive and sometimes must be played on expensive technology. Because of that, he chooses older, cheaper games that can be downloaded and played on a computer or mobile device.

Becker said commercial games can also be challenging for teachers, because they don’t come with lesson plans.

“Teachers don’t have time to develop their own courseware,” she said.

Despite the difficulties, Becker said she is a huge proponent of games in education, as they provide new options for learning.

“It’s yet another tool to use,” she said. “And I think the richer the environment, the better off we are.”



Neil Gaiman is creating a video game

Neil Gaiman

Author, graphic novelist, Doctor Who writer – and now video games developer; It seems Neil Gaiman wants to sample every form of creative medium.

The author of Stardust and Amercian Gods has lifted the lid on his first video game project, a puzzle game entitled Wayward Manor.

Gaiman will work with US-based developer The Odd Gentleman, the firm behind XBLA puzzler The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, according to CVG.

Players take on the role of Wayward Manor’s deceased owner, who must haunt his way around the mansion and scare the current occupants away.

The game will be released this autumn for PC, Mac and Tablets. The official website calls for fans to help fund further development of the franchise, offering crowd-funding stretch goal rewards such as artbooks, soundtracks, invites to the launch, dinner with Gaiman and the chance to be a character in the game.



LUNA: You will always be remembered…


Hello everyone. The following post has nothing to do with video games at all, but is a true story of a tragic event that happened to my daughters and myself in 2010. I omitted their names but their ages were 17 and 6. I originally sat down to write a short children’s story but this is the flashback that came to mind after so many years, so I finally wrote about it and have decided to share it with you all. Thank You.

LUNA: You will always be remembered…

Luna was the name my youngest daughter gave her. I had suggested it to her because it was the name of a character on her favorite Japanese anime show called “Sailor Moon” about teenage girls who were super heroes originally from the moon with no recollection of their past. Luna was a cat, a baby kitten. I saw her one night while driving with the family. We were on our way to eat something. She was in the middle of the road just curled up meowing. I swayed to the side avoiding her. I immediately looked through my rear view mirror hoping the car behind me swayed as well to avoid the small kitten. My family started to cry out in fear for the kitten and begged me to get out and save it. Another car past by just missing the cat. My heart raced as I saw a car coming down the road in front of me. Would he see it in time? Would he even care?

I stopped my car and got out, holding up traffic behind me and I waved to the car coming in front of me so he would slow down. I bent over and picked up the kitten immediately knowing I would probably have to keep it because of how my girls loved animals. Who would want it I thought to myself. The kitten was shivering and crying loudly as I held her in my arms and approached the car. I looked around to see where she came from or if there were any more by the road but I saw nothing, the road was mostly dark. My oldest daughter lowered the windows and reached out with both arms to take the kitten. She was so happy it was alive and safe and she said she would take care of it. My wife gave me that look and said we couldn’t keep the cat because we had 2 already. I sighed and said; well let’s just see what happens.

What happened was that we kept the cat. Since she was a baby we kept her inside the house. She was such a playful thing and the girls loved her so much. They slept with her and Luna would always suck on the girls thumb as though it was her mother.

A few months passed and as Luna grew up, so did her daring deeds and playfulness. She would race back and forth in the house and loved to jump on furniture. One of the things she enjoyed doing was jumping on my speakers and scale the front mesh fabric up to the top. This was not amusing to me and a few times the speakers almost fell over because they were not flat on the floor but had a support stand underneath and the speakers could lean back tilted upright on these. It was mostly to keep them off the ground.

Luna was a good cat. She behaved a lot like a child, always playful, curious and sucking on my youngest daughters thumb.

This is where the fun stuff ends and the tragedy begins. I think of it as the day I and my daughters looked death in the eyes, the day my oldest daughter held death in her arms and both of my babies lost their innocence. All three of us were connected that day in a horrible way we would never forget and we would never really speak of it afterwards but we knew when we looked at each other, we knew that that day would never be forgotten.

It was around 1:45pm one afternoon. I was getting ready to pick up my youngest at school. My oldest daughter was playing a video game in the living room and did not want to accompany me. The school was about 10 min away. Luna was outside in the laundry room. I said I would be right back and left. I remember picking up my daughter that day. She was so happy and very talkative. I approached the corner of our house on the way home I saw a car stopped in the street talking to someone by the door to the drivers side. As I got closer I realized it was my oldest daughter. She turned to see me pulling up and ran to me screaming hysterically. She had blood all over her shirt, hands and face. This is where I sort of went into a mental haze, maybe it was shock I suppose. I feared the worst, then I saw her holding Luna in her arms all bloody and motionless.

My first thought was that she got out and was hit by a car, maybe that’s why that car was stopped in front of the house? The man asked if he could help and said he had more cats if she wanted one. I just told him to leave and ignored him and focused my attention to my daughter. I pulled in the driveway and jumped out of the car, my daughter pleaded with me to save Luna and not let her die, she said that she had let her inside the house and that the cat jumped up on my speaker and held on to the mesh, this time the speaker came crashing down onto Luna. My daughter could not reach her in time and after taking the speaker off her, noticed she started to convulse and spit blood everywhere. She picked up the cat and ran outside looking for help. That’s when she had flagged down the car.

During all the excitement I had forgotten about my youngest in the car. I looked to her and I realized she was in shock as well. She was frozen and ready to burst into tears but just held it in out of fear I guess. I told everyone to calm down. My heart was racing and I heard everything so far away, almost like in the movies. My thoughts sounded like someone screaming in my ear and I was afraid, mostly for my daughters and because of what they were going trough and witnessing and I could not block it out.

Everything happened so fast. I looked at Luna, she had almost no color in her eyes, I did not know if she was alive, as my daughter pleaded to save her I thought to myself I could just not do nothing and that I had try, at least for her sake. I told her it was a long shot. I told her to put her in her favorite box with a sheet or something and I would drive to the vet. I tried to remember where a damn vet was. I could not think at all. We got in the car and drove off. I then remembered a vet close to the house about 15 min away, but it was already almost 3 pm and traffic was everywhere, the girls were crying in the car and I could not concentrate. I just kept looking at the road and at Luna lying in the box lifeless. I was their father, their hero and at this moment when they needed me the most I was useless. I could not bring back the dead. I could not take away my girl’s suffering. I did not care about myself, I just wanted it to be over and a month in the future already so I would not have to witness their suffering as I did. Was this selfish of me? I do not know but I would do anything to make them feel better. What trauma would this cause them I thought to myself. Is the little one to young for this? I remembered when my grandmother died and how it affected my oldest daughter when she was 12 yrs old. They were so close, but this was different. Luna died in front of her, in her arms.

I pulled into the vet and told my girls to stay in front. I said I would go in first and I took the box inside. I went to the front desk. As I tried to speak my throat was dry, I stuttered. I told the girl at the desk what had happened and showed her the box, She could see I was visibly shaking and she took the box with Luna and told me to wait there and ran inside to the doctor.

As I looked behind me I saw that my girls were inside as well. I had not noticed all the people in the waiting room, they were all staring at me. I sat down with my girls and held their hands. They asked if Luna was going to be alright. I told them I did not know but it looked really bad. My eldest blamed herself for letting Luna inside and I right away took that thought out of her mind. I told her that it was not her fault and she could have never known Luna was going to do that. We waited in silence for what seemed like an hour, then the nurse came back out. She had that serious sad face they put on when they bring you bad news. She looked at me and moved her head slowly left and right. She then spoke softly and said we tried but it was too late and she was pretty banged up inside. She asked if I wanted them to dispose of the body or if I wanted it back. I replied; you dispose of her please.

I turned to my daughters and explained. They knew and started to cry. I held them as we walked to the car and drove home.

There was silence in the car as we arrived home. One of my daughters said that mommy did not know and that we would have to tell her. I replied that I would tell her. As we got out of the car my oldest daughter pulled me to the side and said; daddy, don’t let my little sister in the house yet, the living room and kitchen is covered in blood because as I ran back and forth with Luna screaming her blood flew everywhere.

As I write this, I do not remember the excuse I gave my youngest daughter to stay outside. I went in and the smell of blood and death was immediate to me. I saw the drops of blood all over the white ceramic tiles in the kitchen, all over the walls also. As I walked into the living room I saw the blood trail leading to my speaker which was still on the floor. As I lifted the speaker up I saw a small pool of blood and realized that this was the spot where Luna drew her last breath. It was surreal to me, all of it and I was not quite sure but it felt like a dream at the same time. Maybe I was still in shock. I wondered if my daughters felt the same and I worried. I took cleaning products from the closet and plenty of paper towels and started wiping the blood off the walls and floor. I thought to myself, how could something like this happen? Then of course the second question was why did something like this have to happen? I should have been here I thought. I had no answer. I guess because there probably was no answer.

For many months the area where the speaker fell on Luna always had a bad stench, it just smelled bad, like blood or something. I cleaned it regularly but it did go away with time.

When my wife arrived home that day she asked for Luna, my youngest was next door with the neighbor and I was with our eldest. We just looked at her and said that there was an accident and Luna had died. My wife was shocked and in disbelief. Everything was explained to her.

It has been about two years since Luna’s death but we all remember her and we still have photos of her. Both of my daughters cry when they see them and my youngest asks where she is and if she is ok. Of course I tell her she is fine. This was the first death she witnessed for something she loved dearly. She still loves to watch Sailor Moon and I know she is reminded of Luna when she watches it, every time that cat comes on screen and her name is spoken, it is a constant reminder. I don’t know how she does it.

So this is our story. The story of how my daughter held death in her arms and looked it in the eye. As I write this, again my heart races just remembering the faces of my daughters that fateful day and how powerless I felt as they looked at me for help. You might be wondering why I would write this? Well I believe in doing so, I am preserving her memory and what she meant to us. It’s something I just felt needed to be done and I feel a sense of closure also. I’m sure many of you have experienced a loss of a pet, hopefully not as tragic as this though. Luna, we will never forget.

-James Seda

Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation wins Writers Guild Award

“Holy crap, we won the Writers Guild of America award”

AC3 Liberation wins Writers Guild Award

Ubisoft has secured a Writers Guild Award for its Vita title, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation.

The script by Richard Farrese and Jill Murray was awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Videogame Writing by the American association. It beat the other nominees, 007 Legends, Assassin’s Creed III, Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, Halo 4 and Uncharted: Golden Abyss to the title.

Murray tweeted a picture of her award from the ceremony. “Holy crap, we won the Writers Guild of America award for game writing. This actually just happened.”

The game, developed by Ubisoft Sofia and released last October, is notable for featuring the first female protagonist of the series, Aveline de Grandpré.

Previous winners of the award have included Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed