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Title: Role-playing Game Banned From High School

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, March 6th, 1988

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Role-playing Game Banned From High School
March 06, 1988
By Carol D. Leonnig, Special to The Inquirer

Though Cinnaminson's school board has banned the play of Dungeons and Dragons from its high school, the arguments between the game's critics and supporters continues with no conclusion on the horizon.

With a 7-2 vote Tuesday night, the board decided that the halls of Cinnaminson High are not an appropriate stomping ground for Dungeons Masters or any of the other characters concocted from D&D, as the game is popularly called.

Dungeons and Dragons is a role-playing game popular among students that allows players to create their own characters for the purpose of completing a task selected by the leader, who is called the Dungeon Master. The tasks may include finding a sacred object or escaping a trap.

Despite written testimony from psychiatrists, federal agencies and other school boards stating that D&D was harmless to young minds and potentially healthy for their imaginations and self-esteem, several board members were hesitant to overlook the controversy surrounding it.

Parents and some teen and cult behaviorists contend that D&D warps young minds and incites violent and rebellious behavior. Opponents of the game were armed with examples of shocking cases that defy explanation.

Thomas O'Sullivan, 14, who played Dungeons and Dragons and had been fascinated with satanic imagery, murdered his mother in December and took his own life in their Jefferson Township, Morris County, home.

Roland Cartier, of Putnam, Conn., another teen player, killed himself in 1985 and prompted the local school board to re-evaluate its stand on the game.

Cinnaminson board member Jean Dusheck told the members that, based on the barrage of phone calls she has received, D&D is the most highly charged issue of her term.

Bill Waltz, a pastor at Cinnaminson Baptist Church, told the board of a book, The Professional Occultist, in which the author contended that D&D was an ideal introduction to the occult.

Anthony Ceriale, who volunteers at the school store, said D&D instruction books stress the need to "become your character," possibly leading players to bring their game personas into real life.

John Shoesmith, whose son Alan wished to play D&D at the school, stressed the integral nature of role-playing in childhood games. "I did not grow up to be a mass murderer because I shot at Indians and pretended to be Roy Rogers," he said.

Stephen Stanley, 16, who was on hand to defend D&D, which he plays, said that people who see the game as satanic "have never played before."

Only the battlefield has changed in this tussle that D&D players and critics have fought in many communities throughout the country since D&D gained popularity about five years ago.

Cinnaminson principal Robert Wisor remains uneasy about the purported connection between the game and violent acts. "People draw these conclusions

from a half-dozen coincidences when millions of kids are playing the game," he said. Wisor said he wonders why people have never done similar studies of the cultlike violence perpetrated by football, basketball or even chess enthusiasts.

Wisor said he believes "the defect is not within the game, but within the individual."

But many still worry that the nature of D&D's role-playing is an accident waiting to happen in a child's sensitive and malleable mind.

Brian Levin, a Medford therapist and staff member at the Drenk Medical Health Center's adolescent unit in Mount Holly, believes D&D is just another outlet for a healthy, youthful imagination.

Much as long hair and rock-and-roll music were creative outlets for their parents, these children express their brand of innovation through D&D, Levin said.

In devising and portraying characters with both good and evil qualities, Levin said, the players exhibit a realistic grasp of human nature's strengths and weaknesses.

As part of their D&D defense, the club members presented to the board a case in which a group called BADD (Bothered About D&D) filed suit to have D&D game packages and a D&D cartoon carry warnings that the game was linked to suicide and murders, but the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Protection Agency and the Federal Communications Commission rejected the request because they found no evidence of such a link.

A New York Times article presented detailed the story of the Putnam, Conn., school board's unanimous decision to allow their students to play D&D during school free periods although many opposed the game after Cartier's suicide.

"It's a fun game," Stanley said in a phone interview. "We just like playing it for the same reason people like to play cards."

Student David Dearing, who defended the game before the school board, and Stanley have played D&D since third grade. Dearing plays the saxophone and keyboards for the Cinnaminson High School band and volunteers in an outreach program to aid the retarded, while Stanley's academic schedule boasts a number of accelerated courses.

Wisor temporarily banned the game earlier this year because of faculty concerns and asked the board to evaluate the pros and cons of the game. Cinnaminson's board was unable to make a decision on the club's fate in its meeting Feb. 17, when opponents presented cases of teen suicide and murder allegedly connected to D&D.

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