The popular game of medieval fantasy "Dungeons and Dragons" was banned from Arlington schools last night by School Board members reacting to complaints from parents and recent reports linking the game with bizarre incidents and deaths involving youngsters.
The five-member board voted unanimously to exclude the game from the school system's list of extracurricular activities after member Margaret Bocek said studies she has made of the game showed that the negative effects outweighed any benefits.
"I have enough information on my own that I can confidently say I don't want it in the schools," she said before last night's meeting.
Arlington schools spokesman Dennis Smith said the game has been played for several years as an officially sanctioned extracurricular activity of gifted and talented students at Swanson Intermediate School. About 10 students were involved in the game last year and 10 had been expected to participate this year, he said.
Bocek said last night that other students in the system may also have played the game as a part of school activities. "I have heard teachers say it is played in other schools," she said.
The parents of a Hanover County, Va., teen-ager recently filed a lawsuit for more than $1 million against a public high school there charging that the boy's suicide resulted from playing the game, which court papers called "an organized school activity."
Reading from a Washington Post article, Bocek told her colleagues that 16-year-old Irving Lee (Bink) Pulling shot himself in the chest hours after playing the game at school. According to court papers, a curse, "intended to inflict emotional distress," had been placed upon the teen-ager by another player.
Police investigators found "Dungeons and Dragons" paraphernalia in Pulling's room, along with a suicide note that they believed included references to the game.
"I don't know if we have any horror stories," related to the game, Bocek said, noting that teen-agers can be seen in local shopping centers sporting the medieval-type clothing of the game's characters.
One of the top-selling games in the country with an estimated 3 million to 4 million players, "Dungeons and Dragons" relies upon an intricate fantasy world in which players take on the roles of mythical characters such as monsters, wizards, dwarfs and dragons.
"It's a very fanciful retreat from the routine of school, homework and home-life," Bocek said.
She said complaints last year from the parents of students who played the game once a week at Swanson led her to begin looking into the effects of the game.
Much of the criticism from parents surrounded the idea of involving students in role-playing or psychodrama in which students take on the attributes and actions of their characters. Advocates of the game contend that the role playing and complex series of instructions sharpen thinking and mathematical skills.
But Bocek said she is concerned about young adolescents getting involved in the psychodrama "when their own emotional development is taking place."
In other action last night, the board voted to lease Claremont Elementary School, closed in June because of low enrollment, to the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy. The board also agreed to ask the County Board to set aside $1 million in unspent school appropriations for computer labs in high schools, a word processing system, a community cultural arts center and for a fund towards increasing teacher salaries.