'Dungeons & Dragons' Gary Gygax Surprising Insurance Salesman Origin
Gary Gygax is a figure that looms, Godzilla-like, over the collective Tokyo of nerds’ minds. He and fellow designer Dave Arneson were huge tabletop gaming enthusiasts. They liked war games, recreating famous battles from history with the Midwest Military Simulation Association. This and other surprising inspiration sources led them to create a TTRPG (table top role playing game) of their own. Instead of real militaries, it was heavily inspired by the work of Tolkien and other fantasy writers. That game, of course, became Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax is a controversial figure in the gaming community; there are those that see him as a villain, taking all the credit for what was a collaborative effort in creating a genre spawning game that is currently spurring on a golden age of tabletop gaming. There are those that idolize him. And there are those who he sold insurance to.
Gygax lived in the lovely town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The son of a Swiss immigrant, perhaps the lake reminded his father of the real Lake Geneva in Switzerland, a lake which had seen the advent of the sci-fi genre when Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein in the early 19th century. Perhaps Gygax dreamed of creating something as unique as Shelley while pouring through documents at his boring ass insurance job. Because before Gygax decided to try his meaty hand at game design, he worked in a job which has a surprising amount of overlap with Dungeons & Dragons: insurance underwriter.
The work of insurance underwriters is oddly perfect for a game designer. It’s all about threat assessment. And the job is a lot like the work a Dungeon Master does while prepping for a D&D session. First, underwriters gather a ton of information about their clients, history, current financial documents, etc. Much like a DM works with players to create a character and backstory. Then they examine what level of insurance coverage the client will need, kind of like mapping out a campaign full of appropriately leveled baddies. They also make sure their clients are being honest about their assets and risk evaluations. Essentially, it’s a rules focused job of risk assessment, perfect for a future tabletop gaming designer.
Want more D&D history? Check out these staggering origin stories of Dungeons & Dragons monsters.