It’s hard to quantify the impact that David Bowie has had over the sci-fi and fantasy landscape. He wasn’t a George Lucas, or a Jack Vance. Still, he was a creator of worlds, a writer of atmospheres, a portrayer of characters. He, in many ways, was a role-player.
His music was a soundscape that not only accompanied fantastic stories, it actually conjured them. The characters he became burrowed their way into the collective cultural ideal of fantasy-as-art, and perhaps no one did it with more conviction.
His music was nothing short of groundbreaking. While the airwaves were being dominated by the likes of R&B singers Al Green and Roberta Flack, Bowie was becoming Ziggy Stardust and releasing science fiction concept albums. Not many have done that, fewer still in 1972. While prepubescent Michael Jackson sang about Rockin’ Robins, Ziggy sang about pink monkey-birds and spiders from Mars.
The personas he created have flavored a generation of gamers, whether they realize it or not. When kids in the eighties watched Labyrinth for the first time, they fell in love with a feeling and a mood and an experience. It was a live-action dungeon crawl, full of mazes and puzzles and monsters and magic, and waiting in the center of it all was the boss fight with the Goblin King. This wasn’t a faceless unknown evil, it was a motivated, enviable, and most importantly, understandable foe. There was depth and intrigue to this Big Bad. It was a quest hook based on decision making and investigation of character; it was the best campaign you’ve ever hoped to play. David Bowie WAS Jareth. He role played the character like only the best GM can, with mountains of unseen information and backstory that makes the character real, even if the players never discover it.
Those manifestations have left fingerprints on many other mediums over the years, one of which is undoubtedly my love for fantasy and science fiction gaming. Gaming as an expression of art is a concept I’ve wrestled with for a long time. I know that gaming has made me a better actor, and acting has made me a better gamer. There is very little difference for me between the two: wearing another character’s skin to drive a leisure activity and doing so for art’s sake use the same muscles, and Bowie as Jareth is my reference point for that marriage. Perhaps if I would have pursued music with more intensity Ziggy Stardust would have been a musical analog. I have reflected the energy Bowie put into his art, and therefore onto the world, onto my own art. I’m willing to bet many others out there have too.
Cheers to a great performer, artist, creator, and role-player. Thanks for everything, Mr. Jones.