Main Page - Return to previous page
Main > Resources > Archive > Role Playing: Is It Good Or Evil?

Title: Role Playing: Is It Good Or Evil?

Source: Chicago Tribune, August 28th, 1988

NOTICE: The following material is copyrighted as indicated in the body of text.  It has been posted to this web page for archival purposes, and in doing so, no claim of authorship is expressed or implied, nor is a profit being made from the use of the material.

Role Playing: Is It Good Or Evil?
August 28, 1988
By Flynn McRoberts.

To Wes Meador, it looked like just another one of those annoying, incomprehensible Christmas toys when his wife bought the original Dungeons & Dragons box set for their son, Chris, 12 years ago.

Poring over the instructions, though, Meador said, he soon discovered not only an intriguing game but something that made "a super teaching tool."

Meador, now 43, found himself acting as dungeon master, or guide, for Chris and his friends: "It was amazing how you could convey ethics and morality and whatever, using the (dungeon master) figure."

"My kids turned out to be good kids," said Meador, a computer facility director for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Warrenton, Va. "And I really attribute a lot of it to D&D. There are some people who really are trying to escape reality. The game gets a bad rap because of it."

Serious raps, such as this: "There have been more deaths linked to fantasy role-playing games in the past four years than linked to all other children`s games put together," said Dr. Thomas Radecki, a psychiatrist and research director for the Champaign-based National Coalition on Television Violence.

Radecki and other critics insist that role-playing games such as D&D, the most popular of the genre, can desensitize players to violence-and prompt a small but tragic few to become immersed in the occult and even commit murder or suicide.

Radecki, who has been called to give testimony in seven murder trials and one arson-burglary trial in which he claims "D&D played a major role in the crimes," said 116 homicides and suicides connected to fantasy role-playing games have occurred since 1976.

Nonsense, say game supporters. "It`s one of the best things you can do for a kid's mind," said John Cereso, a tournament marshal at Gen Con. "When you game, a child learns logic, he learns problem-solving."

"The people who don't like the game," Cereso said, "have never sat and played it."

Pat Pulling did-for 30 days straight, in an attempt to understand why her 16-year-old son, Irving, committed suicide, in 1982. Irving, who played frequently, killed himself the same day he finished a game of Dungeons & Dragons, in his gifted class at school, in which he received a written "death curse" from the dungeon master.

In a suicide note to his parents, Irving wrote that because he couldn't bring himself to kill them or anyone else, "he'd have to end his own life," Pulling recalls.

As a result, she helped establish Bothered About D&D and Other Harmful Influences on Children. Now the group's main focus is not D&D, however, but "adolescents who become involved in the occult," she said. Last week, Pulling delivered a speech in suburban Matteson at a seminar on ritualistic crimes and child exploitation.

She said some of the games' characters use incantations and spells. Whether authentic or not, such elements establish "the seeding process, developing a curiosity in the occult that wasn't already there," she said.

Some have taken that curiosity to sick extremes. In May, a 24-year-old Wilmington, Del., man was arrested on sexual assault charges involving girls ranging in ages from 9 to 15. He is in jail awaiting trial.

The man, a vagrant, "also was known as the local dungeon master for the Dungeons & Dragons game in this area," said Lt. Stanley Yackoski of the New Castle County Police Department, "and he used his position as dungeon master to gain the trust of the teenagers and then have them perform various sexual acts."

Last year a 19-year-old Salt Lake City man who was heavily involved in fantasy role-playing games was convicted of raping and stabbing a 14-year-old girl to death, according to Radecki, who was called to testify in the case.

The man, sentenced to life imprisonment, said he wishes he had received the death penalty, Radecki said, because he believes he would be reincarnated to medieval times, the implied setting of many of the fantasy games.

Despite all of that, supporters insist that no causal link can be drawn between the crimes and playing the games. Moreover, they say, critics unfairly pin the blame on role-playing games when the kids involved often have a myriad of other problems, such as drug abuse or a bad family life.

"There are unbalanced people," said Gary Gygax, cocreator of D&D, who eventually

Dan Kramarsky tries to nurture the good side of role-playing. Kramarsky, 27, teaches computers and English at a private school in Manhatten and also runs an ongoing role-playing game, or campaign, for six of his students.

"To some of us, it's a bit of an escape," said Kramarsky, who judged tournament rounds at Gen Con. "(But) when we are escaping from the problems of the world, we want the chance to do something incredibly heroic and good. If my 4th graders learn to fight for virtue's sake, that will be terrific. And if they only learn to cooperate and solve problems creatively, that's not too bad, either."
Main Page - Return to previous page