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Title: Spate of suicides linked to US game

Source: (London) Sunday Times, June 6th, 1996

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Spate of suicides linked to US game 

The deaths of dozens of Italian teenagers in the past year have been linked to macabre "role-playing" games which call for players to act out executions.

An investigation has been launched after a 19-year-old student, identified only as Roberto C, was found hanging from a tree two weeks ago in the countryside near the Venetian town of Spinea.

The boy was a passionate enthusiast of American fantasy role-playing games such as Killer, in which a "game-master" chosen from among players assigns each one a victim to "kill".

Carlo Nordio, a Venice magistrate, is leading an investigation into a series of recent suicides amid fears that the games can provoke dangerous obsessions among players. "At first sight it seems unlikely that simple games can condition the minds of young people to lead them to such extreme gestures," said Nordio. "But we are reviewing with different eyes cases of suicide among youngsters."

Luciano Faraon, a lawyer involved in the investigation, has called for the games to be banned. "They are all based on inhuman situations," said Faraon.

Killer has been advertised in Italy under the slogan: "There is no greater pleasure than rubbing out a friend." It involves each player putting their name into a hat and drawing out another, denoting the person they must kill. "Everyone then just goes about knocking each other off," said Derek Pearcy, of Steve Jackson Games, the American company that devised Killer. Players can be "killed" in numerous ways. A person might drink from a glass only to discover a sticker on the bottom that says "poison"; cigarettes are stuffed with small bombs.

The games have also been linked with suicides in America. The mother of one American victim has set up a group to lobby for Dungeons and Dragons, in which players cast spells on each other, to be banned. Similar complaints have been heard in Germany.

Roberto's death took to 12 the number of suicides by young people in Italy in May. "Roberto was a loner, he escaped into fantasy and sought refuge in an unreal world," said Gianna, his mother. "I knew his friends well. They often came to the house to play."

The Venice investigation has sparked an impassioned debate in Italy. But shopkeepers deny that Killer is dangerous. "The only shooting done by players is with water pistols," said Mirella Vicini, owner of a shop selling role games in Florence.

Additional reporting:

Chris Goodwin
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