Irving Lee (Bink) Pulling II was a gifted high school student who took an unusually keen interest in wars, science fiction and the popular fantasy game called "Dungeons & Dragons." His classmates were shocked when they learned that Pulling, 16, went home from school in Hanover County, Va., the day before final exams last year and shot himself in the chest with a pistol.
When the local sheriff's office began to investigate, deputies found that Pulling's room was filled with paraphernalia from "Dungeons & Dragons," a game that has stirred up a whirl of controversy in recent years. They found a "Dungeons & Dragons" magazine and a bizarre suicide note that one said contained "unexplainable-type things"--mystical phrases that police believed were references to the game of mythology.
Now, a year later, Pulling's parents have filed a lawsuit against the principal of Patrick Henry High School charging that he was responsbile for Pulling's death by allowing "Dungeons & Dragons" to be played as an "organized school activity." They have asked for $1 million in damages and legal expenses and interest on the $1 million from the day of Pulling's death, June 9, 1982.
"The game was played in that school," said Lt. Clyde Futrell, a spokesman for the Hanover County Sheriff's Office who described Pulling as a devotee of the game. "They had a teacher who was the 'Dungeon Master' or whatever you call it."
Hours before his suicide, the suit alleges, Pulling was playing "Dungeons & Dragons" at school when a "curse" was placed upon him by another player. This curse was "intended to inflict emotional distress" upon Pulling, the suit says, at a time when he was already under "extreme psychological stress and emotional pressure" from playing "Dungeons & Dragons."
Robert A. Bracey III, the principal of Patrick Henry, said that "Dungeons & Dragons" was "not part of the school curriculum," as the suit alleges. Bracey refused further comment.
"Dungeons & Dragons," one of the top-selling games in the country with an estimated three to four million players, creates an intricate fantasy world in which players take on the roles and mystical powers of mythical characters, such as medieval monsters, wizards, dwarves and dragons, some of them borrowed from J. R. R. Tolkien's popular "Lord of the Rings."
The game has received publicity in connection with several bizarre incidents and deaths in recent years, most notably the disappearance and subsequent suicide of a brilliant 17-year-old Michigan State University student who was said to be obsessed with the game.
Classmates of Pulling yesterday described him as an unusually bright youth who was enrolled in the school's Talented and Gifted program for students with high IQs. They said, however, that he also had trouble "fitting in" and became dejected when he was unable to find a campaign manager when he ran for a school office. Shortly before his death, he wrote "Life is a Joke" on the blackboard in one of his classes, one classmate said.
"He had a lot of problems anyway that weren't associated with the game," said Victoria Rockecharlie, another classmate of Pulling's in the Talented and Gifted program.
Neither Pulling's parents, nor their lawyer, Peter Wright, could be reached for comment yesterday. Bracey's lawyer, William Smith, said he will argue in court that school officials are immune from such lawsuits. No hearing date has been set in the case.
Dieter H. Sturm, corporate public relations director for TSR Inc., the Lake Geneva, Wisc. based company that distributes "Dungeons & Dragons," dismissed suggestions that the game could in anyway be linked to Pulling's death.
He noted that the game is used in many advanced school programs around the country and that television personality Dr. Joyce Brothers, a psychologist, has been retained as a consultant by TSR to promote use of the game.
"The game has been very successful in allowing students to have some fun but it also has some educational benefit," said Sturm. "It teaches kids to use their imaginations and to engage in problem-solving."
Of the Pulling suit, Sturm said, "This is the first thing I've heard of something of this magnitude."
Critics of games like "Dungeons & Dragons" have a different view.
"This doesn't surprise me at all," said Robert Landa, a lawyer for a California-based group called SALT (Sending America Light and Truth) that has been campaigning against "Dungeons & Dragons." "I've got stories you wouldn't believe about people who have been victims of role-playing games like 'Dungeons & Dragons.'
"This game becomes a lifestyle . . . that uses witchcraft and sorcery and black magic," Landa said.