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Title: The Wendorf "Vampire" Murders' connection to Roleplaying, A Statement by the Interactive Literature Foundation

Source: rec.games.frp.advocacy, 12/11/96, as posted by Gordon Olmstead-Dean, president of the Interactive Literature Foundation.

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From jgdean@mnsinc.com Wed Dec 11 09:25:15 1996
Newsgroups: alt.games.whitewolf, rec.games.frp.storyteller, alt.games.vampire.the.masquerade, rec.games.frp.live-action, alt.true-crime, rec.games.frp.advocacy

Subject: "Vampire" Murders - ILF Statement
From: Gordon Olmstead-Dean <jgdean@mnsinc.com
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 1996 11:25:15 -0500
The Wendorf "Vampire" Murders' connection to Roleplaying

A Statement by the Interactive Literature Foundation
PO Box 196, Merrifield VA 22116-0196

President       J. Gordon Olmstead-Dean 
Phone:         703/912-9877 eve
202/606-0745 work 
Fax: 703/642-5479
e-mail        jgdean@mnsinc.com

The Interactive Literature Foundation (ILF), a non-profit corporation, based in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The ILF is filing for IRS 501(c)(3) status as a charitable educational institution.  The ILF primarily seeks to educate the public on the existence of Interactive Literature (IL) and opportunities for participation, and to facilitate education and co-education by artists on techniques of IL art.  Our organization's Board of Directors had defined "Interactive Literature" as "any dynamic art in which multiple participants interact concurrently to create a story."  This includes many role-playing activities which are usually marketed as "games," including White Wolf Corporation's Vampire: the Masquerade, and Mind's Eye Theatre.  Our interest in these "games" is when they are used as the basis for live interactive drama.

The Murders

Richard and Naomi Wendorf were found beaten to death on November 25, 1996, at their home in Eustis, Florida. According to an Associated Press report on Thursday, December 5, 1996,  Dana Cooper, Roderick Ferrell,
Scott Anderson and Jennifer and Heather Wendorf face first-degree murder charges and Sarah Remington is charged with being an accessory to murder.   According to the AP report "Investigators believe the teenagers became attracted vampires because of a best-selling role-playing game.  Police say the youths drank their own blood and that of mutilated animals."

As might be expected this has raised a number of questions about whether or not roleplaying games in general, and White Wolf's  Vampire: the Masquerade, and Mind's Eye Theatre. are inherently "dangerous" material, which predispose youths towards antisocial behavior.

The ILF presents three basic facts in regards to role-playing of all types:

1) The connection between roleplaying and criminal or suicidal behavior, and the practice of Satanism, is fictional, and has been scientifically disproved by accredited organizations, including the Center for Disease

2) Roleplay, particularly live-action roleplay is a nascent form of art and entertainment.  Live roleplay is already well-established and widespread, and it will become increasingly significant in the next decade.

3) Live roleplay has been accepted by educators as an excellent way to educate students, particularly in the area of history and sociology, however its acceptance in actual school environments has been hindered by media sensationalism about roleplaying, primarily stemming from a 1979 incident at the University of Michigan.

1. The Criminal Connection

The ILF is profoundly concerned that live role play not be made into "the D&D of the 90's" by an overzealous press.  Already attempts by American educators to introduce role play into our schools have been nearly eradicated by parents, law enforcement officials, and conservative educators who have paranoia and suspicion about anything related to "role-playing" because of a series of overly- hyped press reports concerning the disappearance of James Egbert III from the University of Michigan in 1979, which was tentatively connected with the roleplaying game "Dungeons and Dragons," produced by TSR. The disappearance turned out to be unrelated to roleplaying, or the TSR product, but the role play angle was highlighted in the  title of The Dungeon Master, a 1984 book by the detective who found  Egbert, and in Rona Jaffe's Monsters and Mazes, an entirely fictional  book "inspired" by the case.  Unfortunately, because of the media hype and sensationalism, more people are familiar with these versions than with the facts of the case.

As an organization that supports and promotes live-action drama and theater, whether in the form of teenagers' "games" or more mature dramas, ILF members are deeply involved in live-action games and events of all sorts.  The ILF membership includes medical doctors, CPA's, U.S. military officers, government employees, students, computer engineers, artists, and many others.  The  active membership, includes teens and adults.

In general, the roleplaying community can be characterized as being made up of individuals who are intelligent, creative, and imaginative.  Roleplayers are often among the most intelligent students, and have broad interests in literature, history, and music.  It has been unusual for me to encounter roleplayers who had an obsession with roleplay.  In almost all cases roleplayers have several hobbies or interests.

The case against role play is entirely fictional, but parents are still told  that it provokes anti-social behavior, and suicide.  The "teen suicide"  myth is especially robust, despite evidence to the contrary from the medical and scientific community. The Center for Disease Control conducted an extensive study of teen suicide and found no 
evidence to link role-playing games with suicide.  Investigations by the Association of Gifted and Creative Children (Dublin, CA), the Albert  Einstein College of Medicine (the Bronx, NY), and the American Association of Suicidology (Denver, CO) have likewise found no evidence that games encourage suicide.  A list of these studies and other information about roleplaying games was compiled in 1991 by Loren K. Wiseman and Michael A. Stackpole of the Game Manufacturers Association.

No scientific study has ever linked roleplay to either criminal behavior or suicide.  The myth that there is a link is maintained by the tendency of the media to focus on roleplay if a criminal or suicide victim is engaged in it.  The fact is that hundreds of thousands of crimes and suicides occur annually, and there are hundreds of thousands of
roleplayers, yet it is still a spectacular and newsworthy event when roleplaying is connected with a crime or suicide.

Obviously, in the Wendorf case, the youths were at least familiar with the Vampire role-playing material.  The question that emerges is whether or not the material is responsible for their behavior.  Clearly, the idea is preposterous.  When five people commit a heinous criminal act and attribute it to fictional work which is read by hundreds of thousands of others, we have to decide whether it is the work or the individual that is to blame.  The youths in the Wendorf case exhibited extreme sociopathic behavior.  Vampire constitutes neither a reason or an excuse.  Whatever sad reasons may lie behind this crime, the youths identification with Vampire is incidental to the act, not contributory.  If we are to condemn every work of literature or art in Western civilization which has ever been perused by, or cited by, a criminal, we would have to condemn a great deal of our culture.

2) Roleplay as a form of Art and Entertainment

The ILF believes that live role play is an important art, whether presented a light entertainment, or as a form of serious drama.   Role play will become increasingly important as a form of entertainment art, as the rise of virtual reality systems becomes more widespread, and standards such as VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language) become more sophisticated, allowing many users to interact concurrently.  Already primitive text based role play is a common phenomenon on computer networks, and primitive Virtual Reality is supported through the Internet. 

3) Roleplay as a form of Education

The ILF has assembled reference information indicating that Roleplay is an excellent educational tool. 

Outside the United States, live role play is used extensively as a method of teaching, and is described in such books as John Fairclough's A Teacher's Guide to History through Role play, published by the highly respected English Heritage Foundation.  In the past ten years, dozens of papers have been published in psychological journals, describing the usefulness of live role play for teaching in areas as diverse as counselor training, aircrew training, community decision making, substance abuse control, and improving the school attendance of disabled
youths.  In 1995 Holcombe, Wolery, and Katzenmeyer published an article in The Journal of Child and Family Studies which described the use of roleplaying teaching children to avoid sexual molestation or abduction.

Despite scientific reports from around the world that roleplaying is an excellent method of teaching, educators in the United States, are reluctant to attempt to introduce this excellent teaching tool. They have been met with constant and bitter opposition because of paranoia about the "evils" of roleplaying.

The games produced by White Wolf, while primarily recreational and not an educational tool, are unusual in presenting an entertainment containing elements of history, classical and modern literature, and modern music that appeals to many teenagers.   Some adults disapprove of art or entertainment that allows youths to explore moral choices, and ethics.   Roleplaying games encourage teens to think for themselves, rather than being fed "canned" entertainment from the television. 

Role play is a social phenomenon, and requires some thought and insight. Imagination-oriented activities that get young people out of the house, away from Nintendo and TV, and that require reading, math, and socializing should be considered a positive pursuit.  The suggestion that these games promote "unhealthy obsession" is simply silly - any pursuit, from music to baseball cards, can be a teenage time sink that drives dad crazy. 

White Wolf's Vampire Games

If the theme of White Wolf's games are occasionally violent and bloody, they do no worse than television and movies.  A reading of the White Wolf materials shows they encourage the participant to question his or  her actions, and the results, rather than simply accepting mindless violence, which is the primary quality of passive entertainment like television.

To suggest that the half-million individuals who play White Wolf games are likely to exhibit criminal or sociopathic behavior is ridiculous.  Vampire literature has been a part of our culture since the publication of "Varney the Vampire" in the 1840s, and has been presented time and time again to audiences by literary and film figures such as Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, and most recently Anne Rice and Tom Cruise. The Vampire myth is powerful because it contains an analogy of cultural alienation. Occasional miscreants adopted the Vampire theme in sociopathic acts long before roleplaying was invented. Literary critics and Sociologists have pointed out that the Vampire myth contains powerful elements of cultural alienation, which make it a particularly important myth for modern human beings striving to cope with modern culture.  The fact that the myth is embraced by a criminal does not make it any less of a valid part of our culture, or suggest that normal people should not explore the many lessons that can be learned through this 

Role play is not dangerous.  Parents who do not supervise their children are dangerous.  The Interactive Literature Foundation encourages parents to ask questions about their teens' hobbies and activities.  Parents who are concerned about their children or teenager's games should actually  read the game books, bearing in mind that they will be no more or less graphic and violent than TV, movies, or a popular thriller.  Talk with
teens about moral and ethical attitudes.  And when it comes to roleplaying groups, insist on information about location, responsible adults, and times. 

What is the ILF?

Before now, other than the manufacturers, there has been no credible clearinghouse for information on role play and roleplaying.  The ILF was incorporated as an NPO to serve that need, and we hope that we can provide information to the media in the future, when a sober, businesslike, view of roleplaying activities is desired as a balance to more radical views. 

ILF Contact Information

Gordon Olmstead-Dean, President
Work (U.S. Govt, OPM) 202/606-0745
Home 703/912-9877

Or to contact the ILF Secretary, Terilee Edwards-Hewitt at:
Home 703/642-5479

The ILF will supply representatives to speak at engagments or to the
press on any issue related to live roleplaying.

                        == Gordon Olmstead-Dean
                            ILF President/CEO

The Interactive Literature Foundation is a non-profit organization that exists exclusively to promote IL around the globe by spreading information about IL, as a form of art, education, and entertainment.

ILF WWW Site - http://allison.clark.net/pub/arthur/ilfhome.html

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