A boy's death, a fantasy game, divide a town
D. MORGAN McVICAR Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer Providence Journal Providence, R.I.:  Sep 22, 1985.  pg. A-01
Companies: Cartier Inc (NAICS: 448310 ) ,  TRS Hobbies Inc
Author(s): D. MORGAN McVICAR Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer
Section: NEWS
Publication title: Providence Journal. Providence, R.I.: Sep 22, 1985.  pg. A-01
Source type: Newspaper
Text Word Count 2109
Abstract (Document Summary)

Critics of Dungeons and Dragons, D & D to players, include parents of suicide victims, Christian groups and organizations fighting violence on television. Their complaints center around what they perceive as the game's emphasis on evil, on the occult, death, demonology and spells. Critics charge that the game encourages aggressive behavior, violent fantasies and robs young people of the ability to discriminate between reality and fantasy.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, invented by a former shoe repairman and war game aficianado, entered the game market in 1973. Today, almost 4 million Americans, most aged 12 to 24, play D & D. Last year, TRS reported sales exceeding $27 million. The figure includes sales of D & D materials as well as of a number of other role-playing games.

DR. JOSEPH CREME has been one of Putnam's most outspoken critics of D & D. Creme, a family practitioner and a member of the CIC, said Putnam parents encountered fear of the unknown when the Cartier boy committed suicide, and a link to D & D was suggested. Creme researched the game and said he found the facts more fearsome than the unknown.

Full Text (2109   words)
Copyright Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin Sep 22, 1985

PUTNAM, Conn. --- In early April, 13-year-old Roland Cartier was found hanged in the woods of this small northeastern Connecticut town. The boy's death was ruled a suicide, and there were whispers of drug involvement.

But opponents of a fantasy game called Dungeons and Dragons quickly seized the incident as a rallying point to call for banning the game in Putnam's schools.

In the months after the boy's suicide, a national debate on the tragic potential of Dungeons and Dragons has arrested the attention of this town of about 12,000. The national media found its way up Route 44 to probe the latest link of a tragic death and a fantastic, role-playing game. Critics of the game welcomed the publicity. The Cartier boy's family suffered in silence.

Last May, the school board, without fanfare, refused a petition signed by 450 parents to ban the game from the high school's weekly activity period.

Last Friday, the mother of a 16-year-old Virginia boy who committed suicide after a "death curse" was placed on his Dungeons and Dragons character, came to Putnam to address parents and teenagers on the hazards of playing the game. Two other speakers were there: William Dear, a private investigator from Texas who has investigated more than a half-dozen suicides linked to the game, and Paul Stacy, an expert on censorship from the University of Hartford.

THE FORUM, at Putnam High School, was sponsored by the Christian Information Council to heighten community awareness of the game and add to the arsenal of information the council hopes will sway the school board to ban the game. About 550 parents and students greeted the three speakers with prolonged, enthusiastic applause.

Ironically, for the first time in six years, the high school will not sponsor Dungeons and Dragons this fall; lack of student interest, said Jules Grey, assistant principal and director of student activities.

Thursday, the local newspaper carried a letter from the Cartier boy's mother; it was the family's first public response to the debate that the boy's death spurred. Mrs. Cartier denied that the game led to her son's suicide, and she defended students' rights to play the game in school.

Critics of Dungeons and Dragons, D & D to players, include parents of suicide victims, Christian groups and organizations fighting violence on television. Their complaints center around what they perceive as the game's emphasis on evil, on the occult, death, demonology and spells. Critics charge that the game encourages aggressive behavior, violent fantasies and robs young people of the ability to discriminate between reality and fantasy.

Pulling, a Richmond, Va., resident, told the Putnam audience the story of her son, who first started playing D & D in classes for the gifted and talented at his high school. Pulling and her husband returned home on a summer night three years ago to find their son lying dead on their front lawn. The youth had shot himself through the heart.

The Pullings found D & D books on the kitchen table, the first indication they had that their son played the game. The Pullings have filed suits against the game's manufacturer as well as against the two teachers who led the game in the high school's gifted classes.

"If I had known, if I could have sat and held my child while he cried, maybe he would be alive today," Pulling said Friday. "How many more have got to die?

"This game captures youths totally. It stimulates their imaginations, all right, but it's imagination of killing and horror."

CRITICS POINT TO the game as a time bomb for young, formative minds that can be corrupted by the game to the point that they commit suicide, murder or exhibit other harmful antisocial behavior.

A spokesman for the game's manufacturer, TRS Hobbies Inc. of Lake Geneva, Wis., suggests that the game's outspoken critics are using furor over the game to gain a forum or for financial gain.

"It's a perfect platform for media attention," said TRS spokesman Dieter Sturm. "It's been profitable for everything from booklets to video, and there are requests for donations. And it's used as a political lever. The game is just being used as a vehicle."

Students who play D & D, and some who never have played, defend the game as imagination-expanding, relaxing and harmless. Youths whose deaths have been attributed to the game probably would have exhibited the same behavior whether they played the game or not, they say.

"I don't see D & D as being an issue of any intellectual importance," said David Breault, senior class president at Putnam High School. Breault has never played the game, but said he has several close friends who play.

"It's a game and only a game. Pick any game of war, you're always trying to defeat the enemy. Just because you're killing in a game doesn't mean you're going to do the same thing for real. People have died playing football. Does that mean we're going to ban the game of football?"

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, invented by a former shoe repairman and war game aficianado, entered the game market in 1973. Today, almost 4 million Americans, most aged 12 to 24, play D & D. Last year, TRS reported sales exceeding $27 million. The figure includes sales of D & D materials as well as of a number of other role-playing games.

The game is not easily explained. Players usually must play several times before fully understanding the full complement of rules and possibilities. Players create characters, the character traits and races of which are determined by the role of one of six dice used in the game. "Alignments" also are determined by a roll of the dice. Alignments include "chaotic evil," a character that "will kill anything for the fun of it," according to Ponaganset High School senior Mike Wall, an avid player. Characters who are "chaotic good," on the other hand, "will do good when he feels like it," Wall says.

The goal of the game is to survive. Games stretch over weeks and months, and some characters survive for several months. A Dungeon Master oversees the game, determining the setting for each adventure. Death can come by spell, curse, poison, monster or by another character's hand.

The game has no game board, no moving pieces. Only dice, a vivid imagination, a learned Dungeon Master and several instruction books are required. Mostly, it's the imagination of the players that gives life to the game.

DR. THOMAS RADECKI, a psychiatrist at the University of Illinois Medical School, is a leading critic of the game. He said the game has caused numerous youths to turn to violence against themselves and others when, at game's end, they find themselves unable to leave the fantasy world they've created. The National Coalition on Television Violence, of which Radecki is president, has attributed 45 deaths to the game.

Most recently, three teenagers in Ragland, Ala., walked into a convenience store and shot a 26-year-old woman in the head. St. Clair County District Attorney Lamar Williamson said the boys were good students, came from good families. They also had an "obsessive interest" in D & D, friends said, as well as in another role-playing game called Top Secret, also manufactured by TRS.

The three youths will be tried as adults for murder.

After their son killed himself, Pat Pulling and her husband formed Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD), a nonprofit organization producing a monthly newsletter, serving as an outlet of information for parents and organizations seeking information on D & D, and lobbying for federal funds to conduct formal research into the dangers of the game. BADD is headquartered in Richmond, Va.

IN HER LETTER to the editor of the local newspaper last Thursday, Martha Cartier corroborated the opinion of the state police trooper who investigated her son's death last May and concluded that D & D had had nothing to do with it.

"I think it is a tragedy how a certain group of people can take a tragic death and use it for their own purpose without even considering that they are putting a family through pure hell," Mrs. Cartier wrote in a letter to the local newspaper.

"If families don't want their children to play (Dungeons and Dragons), then notify the school . . . They can have worse thoughts going to see some of the movies. Other issues are more important than Dungeons and Dragons. Teen pregnancy, alcohol, drugs and teen suicide are far more important than Dungeons and Dragons."

Stacy, who said Friday he advocates banning the game from schools, said he believes the game's manufacturer "has gotten to her and pressured her to deny it. Asked after the forum for the basis of his allegation, Stacy said it was "merely a suspicion."

The public library reported that the boy played D & D six to eight hours a day. A suicide note was left on a D & D booklet open to 'Death by Strangulation.' "

A 16-year-old Putnam High student who lives in the apartment above the Cartiers, said in an interview after the meeting that D & D had nothing to do with the youth's suicide.

Brian Bardier said Cartier skipped school that day and went to play in "secret spots" he and friends frequented after school. In the afternoon, Mrs. Cartier looked for her son, then reported him missing to the police, Bardier said. Finally, about 6 p.m., two of the Cartier boy's friends visited one of their "secret spots" in the woods and found their friend. The boy was dead.

"He used to play D & D," Bardier said. "He liked weapons and all that, but he had a lot of problems. D & D ain't the reason he killed himself."

DR. JOSEPH CREME has been one of Putnam's most outspoken critics of D & D. Creme, a family practitioner and a member of the CIC, said Putnam parents encountered fear of the unknown when the Cartier boy committed suicide, and a link to D & D was suggested. Creme researched the game and said he found the facts more fearsome than the unknown.

"If he (Cartier) had not been playing the game, perhaps he may not have thought of suicide as an option," Creme said, "but his death really has very little to do with my objection to the game.

"You take a pre-teen or an early adolescent, give him a role he has to play, generally the roles aren't good, and there's a lot of violence involved with assassins and thieves.

"You put him in a role, and this child - who has not formed his own identity yet, who is going through that whole adolescent turmoil, trying to find out what's good, what's evil - the game may require him to do something against his own moral values, to assassinate or cast a spell. Then the children become more and more desensitized to violent acts, so in a real-life situation, they can easily rationalize violence as legitimate."

RAYMOND B. LEDUC, a member of the Putnam school board, said he is shocked that the "legitimate media - The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Journal-Bulletin" have taken the Putnam debate seriously. Leduc said the matter was a simple case of a group seeking censorship of a harmless game, and the board decided unanimously not to accede.

"All of a sudden, a young man committed suicide, which had nothing whatsoever to do with D & D, and people who thought he had killed himself because of the game made a mountain out of a molehill. It is as simple as that."

PLAYERS AND CRITICS agree on one point, that the game could prove hazardous to an unbalanced youth.

"Suicide? A person has to be pretty whacked out in the first place," Ponaganset senior Wall said. "Something like D & D might trigger it."

Dear, the private detective, is best known for tracking down a D & D devotee at Michigan State University in 1979. The student disappeared while playing the game in the university's steam tunnels and eventually committed suicide.

Dear wrote a book, "The Dungeon Master" about his investigations into D & D-related deaths, and lectures frequently on the subject.

"It's the responsibility of people like us, like Pat Pulling to let you know what the devil is going on," Dear said. "There's nothing wrong with fantasies, but you can't advocate the kind of violence I find in D & D. Dungeons and Dragons played by youths who are having some sort of emotional problems is dangerous," Dear said. "There is no doubt about this."

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SECTION: NEWS