Don Daglow memorializes those we lost in the game industry

As Don Daglow noticed friends and former colleagues passing away, he felt they should be remembered. And so he started keeping a log of game industry professionals who passed away.

He calls the page In Memoriam: Games industry people who have passed away. And it now has more than 700 names, with the numbers hitting the dozens every passing year. It’s one of the cultural artifacts of a young industry that is now becoming older, and the page is not unlike other artistic industries that honor their dead in some way.

At the top of the page, Daglow put the lines from John Donne’s poem from 1624, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Anyone’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

To that poem, Daglow added, “Never let them be forgotten.”

It’s a lot of work to do this, and during this time of year people remember to send more messages of those who have died to Daglow (he takes reports at ddaglow at gmail dot com). He has help from contributors such as Devin Monnens and Andrew Armstrong, who a few years back did a lot of work compiling names for the IGDA and The Internet Archive Memorial. Because he relies on friends and relatives to send in names, Daglow is certain that he is missing a lot of people. After all, the game industry has grown to something like 300,000 people worldwide.

Don Daglow is a longtime consultant in the game industry.

As far as who to include, Daglow includes anyone who worked professionally at a game publisher or developer or as a games journalist. He has also included voice actors, motion capture performers etc. That means this week he added James McCaffery, an actor who died on December 17. McCaffery played Max Payne in the Max Payne trilogy from Remedy Entertainment. He was also the voice of Thomas Zane in Alan Wake, and the voice of Alex Casey in Alan Wake 2.

Daglow is a fitting person to do this work. He learns about people who have passed at reunions for companies like Intellivision.

His games have generated more than $1 billion across his career. Daglow has worked on games since 1980 to the present day, often in leadership or creative positions. He worked on pioneering games across multiple genres such as Neverwinter Nights in 1991, Intellivision World Series Baseball (1983), Stronghold (1993) and Utopia (1991). He has also written novels and Indie Games: From Dream to Delivery. He also serves as an adviser to GamesBeat events.

“This is my project, and certainly the theme is about saving game history before it’s lost,” Daglow said in an interview with GamesBeat.

And he is a senior director of industry relations at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., which is home to the largest collection of games and related documents and artifacts in the world. He is also the volunteer president of The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Foundation.

“I noticed that over the years, and have been thinking about it. When people who have been on a team I worked with, or worked on, passed away, if they were well known, it would get noticed online,” Daglow said. “This matters. And I kept being troubled that a lot of people were those I heard about because I was linked to them on Facebook, or were my friends on LinkedIn. I started doing this informally.”

It’s very sobering work to be such a messenger, Daglow said. It keeps us all in touch with our own mortality. One developer was killed in the 9/11 attacks. When someone sends a thank-you note from a friend or family member of someone on the list, that’s reward and motivator that keeps Daglow going.

Daglow has also been liberal in including people on the list. He has added writers of adapted works (e.g. Douglas Adams, Michael Crichton, Thomas M. Disch, Harlan Ellison, Roger Zelazny) and sports figures (e.g. Kobe Bryant, John Madden, Earl Weaver) who worked directly on original or licensed games with the dev team are likewise included, but creators of licensed works who never worked on the related game are not listed (e.g. J.R.R. Tolkien).

Sprinkled among the game industry professionals are some additional highly influential individuals in recognition of their influence on the birth and evolution of the craft of games. Those include tabletop game designers like Gary Gygax and entrepreneurs.

Daglow has also included computer scientists such as Charles Babbage, programmers Ada Byron King (Ada Lovelace) and Grace Hopper, and hardware specialists like Hedy Lamarr, Gordon Moore, Chuck Peddle, Dennis Ritchie, Jean Sammet, Alan Turing and David Wheeler. He also added pinball game designers like Steve Kordek and Barry Oursler. He said he could always use tips for suggested people to include in the list.

A slice from the In Memoriam list.
A slice from the In Memoriam list.

There are 61 names now in 2018, the first year Daglow published the list. In 2021, 64 died. That coincided with the first full year of the COVID pandemic, when people died from the coronavirus as well as through suicides. In 2017, when Daglow first started collecting names, there were 49 deaths. And so far this year, there are 57 deaths, compared to 73 last year. While the numbers are growing, that makes sense as there is more publicity around the list, and people are getting older in the gaming industry.

At first, Daglow wrote longer tributes to those he knew. But he concluded it didn’t feel right to have those next to someone with just one line. So he limited his description of the person to just one line. And he started linking the names to other material.

“It isn’t about how famous you were,” he said. “It’s that you were part of our community. And if you’re lost, we don’t want to lose you. If you were part of our tribe, our community, then we want you. You were one of us, and we’re not going to leave you behind.”

Sometimes the inbound information is about someone who just died, but sometimes he receives a message about someone who died 15 or 20 years ago.

“The more you publicize something, the more answers you get,” Daglow said. “As I do outreach, so many names come from quite a few years ago. That just tells me we have a lot of gaps. There are lots of people whose names should be on the list. So I just keep working on it.”

And he’s reminded of the words of Donne’s poem, about how we are all brothers and sisters. And all of the people are important. Sadly, his work will never be done.

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