TIME is currently running a 2008 retrospective, including a section on notable passings which pays homage to a pair of influential gaming figures.
Everyone who follows gaming knows Gary Gygax, of course. Of the D&D creator, TIME writes:
A college dropout from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Gygax was one of the creators of a game that transformed popular culture... Dungeons & Dragons sold millions of copies in the 1970s and 1980s and laid the cultural groundwork for movies such as The Lord of the Rings, video games like World of Warcraft and a generation of fantasy writers and fans...
Also mentioned is Carnegie Mellon prof Randy Pausch, who founded CMU's Entertainment Technology Center and is best known for his inspirational last lecture, which was later expanded into book length. From TIME:
He could have canceled the lecture. He was, after all, dying of pancreatic cancer. Instead, Pausch, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon, delivered a wise, funny talk on the great themes: Captain Kirk, football and how to live your life. Pausch also showed us how to die: calmly, gracefully and gratefully.