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Controversial Game Retains Its Backers

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Recent national news reports exploring the possible connection between the role-playing game "Dungeons & Dragons" and youth suicides have elicited increased interest in the game and no negative reactions, according to both the game's manufacturer and the head of an organization for gifted children.

Since a segment about Dungeons & Dragons was broadcast Sept. 15 on the CBS News program "60 Minutes," "the phones have been ringing off the walls," said Dieter Sturm, a spokesman for tsr Inc. of Lake Geneva, Wis., the game's manufacturer. "We have received zero negative calls," he added.

Beth Grant-De Roos, president of the Association for Gifted-Creative Children, a parents' group in San Francisco that has supported Dungeons & Dragons, said calls to her group about the game "have been wholeheartedly positive" following both the "60 Minutes" report and a story in Newsweek the previous week. In fact, she said, bookstore owners who sell the game in the San Francisco area say the publicity has made it "more popular."

A spokesman for "Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons"--a parents' group, started by the mother of a young player who committed suicide, that has vigorously campaigned against the game's use--was unavailable for comment last week.

Builds Intellectual Skills

Supporters of Dungeons & Dragons, which continues to be used in the gifted-and-talented programs of some schools, argue that it builds intellectual skills in problem-solving, reading, and mathematics. It also fosters interest in literature and mythology, say its boosters.

But the game, which was introduced in 1973, has been linked with teen-age violence and suicides since 1979, following the disappearance of a Michigan State University student who was an avid player. The student's reappearance a year later failed to quell rumors of the game's harmful effects upon impressionable players, according to Mr. Sturm.

Subsequent suicides of youths who played the game have fueled the controversy, leading school districts in a handful of states to bar the game in recent years. Debate erupted again in Putnam, Conn., last April when a middle-school student who played the game in the town library committed suicide. A local group, the Christian Information Council, petitioned the board of education to prevent Putnam High School from offering the game during its weekly activity period.

The dead boy's mother, however, has said she sees no connection between her son's death and the game.

"I think it is a tragedy how a certain group of people can take a tragic death and use it for their own purpose," said Martha Cartier in a letter last week to Putnam-area newspapers and radio stations. She said her son Roland, who was 13, "also played Uno, Yahtzee, Monopoly, and other games. ... It was not from any game that my son committed suicide, not even from D & D."

In meetings this summer, the board of education refused twice to bar the game, which the school had offered for five years in a faculty-su-pervised format.

This year, however, the school will not offer the game, according to Assistant Principal Jules F. Grey, because"none of the faculty members has expressed any interest in sponsoring it."

Perhaps more important, he added, there does not seem to be any student interest.

'Wholeheartedly' Favor

"We are wholeheartedly in favor of the game," said Ms. Grant-De Roos of the San Francisco group. "A number of our children have played the game and loved it."

The group recently completed a survey of its 3,900 members on the Dungeons & Dragons issue. With an 82 percent response, "we did not run into any family who had had any problem with the game," she said.

Mr. Grey said that although he believes the game has "fringe benefits," such as developing cooperation among players, he also believes Dungeons & Dragons is "unworthy of sustained intellectual backing." But he said he was less certain of its potential for serious harm.

"I think it has the potential for psychological trauma, but so does any game played to excess," he said. "Playing football can be excessive or dangerous."

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