Pat Pulling did not have a very happy life. In 1982 her son Irving Pulling committed suicide
. He found a loaded, unlocked pistol in Mrs Pulling's bedroom, put it to his chest, and pulled the trigger. As Pulling would come to tell anyone and everyone who asked, up until his death her son was a normal, intelligent, well-adjusted high schooler who suddenly, and without warning, killed himself with his mother's own handgun. Why? D&D, of course. See, a day before he blew himself away, his Dungeon Master
ostensibly put a curse
on his character. And then, blamo. Blamo, I say!
Pulling sued her son's high school for allowing this harmful game to be played and warping her little boy.
It's a rather familiar story of course that makes for interesting press: we're told of a seemingly well adjusted teen who plays D&D
, listens to Ozzy
's "Suicide Solution
" over and over and over again, or watches too much Doctor Who and believes himself to be a life regenerating Time Lord and then, quite naturally, kills himself.
The problem with Pulling's media version1
is it didn't jibe
with the facts. About a month before this seemingly well-adjusted and mentally balanced teenager killed himself, Irving Pulling spent nights in their backyard howling at the moon like a werewolf and slaughtered over a dozen rabbits the Pullings were raising. He also disemboweled a neighbor's cat. Mrs Pulling seems to have willfully ignored these signs of mental illness, sought no treatment for her son, and willfully ignored the dangers of having a loaded gun in the house.
Pulling put the blame on D&D and a high school
principal who should have seen the warning signs a parent ostensibly could not. A court eventually threw the case out. Pulling's allegations of a curse propelled her son to take his life proved unfounded. Not one single gamer involved with Irving could recall the DM issuing the curse.
The court ruling, however, did not quiet Pat Pulling. She formed a group called BADD
(Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons). She marketed herself to lawyers and police agencies as an expert on role playing games. She went on the Geraldo
show to talk about how D&D was leading teens into suicide and Satanism. She found and interviewed mass murderers willing to link their crimes to playing D&D. Pulling found a ready and receptive audience among the public, the twitchy religious right
, and local law enforcement agencies swept up in the empty hysteria over child kidnappings, Satanism, Satanic breeder
s, and underground occult child abuse rings.
For most of the '80s, Pulling milked her tragedy, the tragedy of others, and the crimes of a handful of murderers who had an association with D&D. About the only skeptical audience she ever faced was the FBI
who found no rational basis for any of the ideas and methodologies in her $300-a-head seminars she was giving to local law enforcement agencies around the country.
remained mostly silent on the allegations made by Pulling. As TSR had found with the James Dallas Egbert III
/Mazes and Monsters
fury of the early '80s, no publicity is bad publicity. Every time D&D was implicated in some kind of horrific crime, sales of D&D spiked.
The Game Manufacturing Association
) commissioned Michael Stackpole
to challenge the increasingly wild claims2
made by Pulling and BADD. Stackpole, best known as a sci fi author today, was heavily involved in fantasy role playing, publishing a lot of material for Flying Buffalo
's Tunnels & Trolls
system. He sifted through Pulling's claims and the claims of her BADD organization and then he released a paper called "The Pulling Report". In it, he attempted to show this so-called role playing game expert, who was called in as an expert witness on three capital murder case
s, was no expert. His report examined many of BADD's facts and figures. Stackpole delved into the various news reports Pulling was using to buttress
her arguments. And, most interestingly, he even spoke to many of the murderers who, according to Pulling, linked their crime sprees to D&D during their legal defense.
What Stackpole found was, well, was Pat Pulling was no expert in the field of role playing, despite her claims of being one. As late as 1989, this expert was still claiming role playing games that were no longer being published (like Metamorphosis Alpha
) were top games being played (and ostensibly warping the minds of the youth of America). One would think an organization concerned with the various warning signs would keep an up-to-date list of RPGs budding Satanists might have on their bookshelf. It's akin to an anti-virus software company still touting the Michelangelo virus
as the most potent threat to your computer system.
Stackpole demonstrated Pulling's knowledge of how role playing games are played was not only highly flawed but most of her writings on the subject had actually been lifted from anti-gaming religious tracts that had been floating around for a couple years on BBS
Stackpole also revealed a rather hilarious internal inconsistency within Pulling and BADD's thesis that D&D puts youths at risk because they can't distinguish between fantasy and reality and then they murder their parents. It's the natural course of things. The problem here is Pulling's own "questions to ask suspect Junior Satanists". One of the questions to ask is if they've read the Necronomicon
. The Necronomicon3
is, of course, a book made up by author H.P. Lovecraft
as a literary device and does not exist. A BADD associate identified the novel Mazes & Monsters
as an investigative work of non-fiction. It would seem Pulling and members of BADD themselves had problems distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
Pulling, in an attempt to link D&D to suicide, attempted to compile cases she believed were related to, and thereby caused by, D&D. Basically if anyone so much as played a role playing game and popped his life, the game caused it. Of course anecdotal evidence is evidence of nothing, other than a person is good at collecting interesting stories. When Stackpole crunched her numbers and compared it to the national suicide rate
, it was easy to see D&D players actually have a vastly lower rate of suicide. Stackpole talked to some of the parents of suicide victims Pulling identified. Most offered that D&D was not the cause. In fact, many felt the sense of belonging the departed found within the D&D community helped stave off
the inevitable for a few precious months or years.
Pulling's use of media reports about D&D also came under Stackpole's scrutiny. Pulling would typically take news articles about D&D and republish them within her own material, offering them as so much independent confirmation of D&D's dangers. Now the problem is many news articles at least make an attempt at including some balance. For example a reporter might interview a psychologist
who sees nothing wrong with the game. Pulling, however, would cut out exculpatory
quotes and data. She would rearrange the articles so as to make it appear legitimate news sources were coming down hard on role playing. Not presenting the entire news article or noting cuts were made, it left one with an impression like "Wow, if the Dallas Morning News
has nothing good to say about D&D, something needs to be done!"
She would also quote newspaper articles that would quote her own organization's allegations. Pulling would, however, cleverly delete the circular references, making it seem like a news organization had independently verified BADD's claims.
Pulling's most chilling evidence comes from quotes from murderers who, after death row jail house conversion
s to Christianity, pointed a finger at D&D for leading them to Satanism and then murder. For example, Sean Sellers
, a teenager who killed his parents, started blaming D&D right after his conversion for leading him to Satanism. Pulling used his quotes for years without ever going back and checking in on him. Stackpole, however, interviewed Sellers years after the fact. Sellers admitted his enthusiasm for his conversion led him to cast a pretty wide net in terms of influence. He admitted to Stackpole that upon reflection he doesn't fault D&D and more than one could fault a book on Egyptian mythology
. As one explores Satanism, there are a few natural stops along the way: D&D and Egyptian mythology being a couple of them. Pulling, however, never did bother to check in on Sellers again4
. She had the quote she wanted and kept flogging it despite the author recanting.
Another murder was Darren Molitor
who wrote a famous open letter about D&D that has, for a long time, been distributed on BBSes and then the Internet. Stackpole also spoke with Molitor. Like Sellers, he believed comments he made regarding D&D's role in murder in the heat of his trial were inaccurate. He likewise recanted his earlier statements that D&D was necessarily harmful. Again Pulling ignored Molitor after getting another quotable quote.
Stackpole's publication of "The Pulling Report" had a devastating effect on Pulling's place in the media golden rolodex
and the fortunes of BADD. In less than a year, Pulling gave up her position as head of BADD. She went on to sell real estate
and died of cancer a few years later.
Pulling would later change her own story about her son's death. The curse actually required her little boy to kill his mother and father. Unable to obey, he took the only action he could -- killing himself to save the lives of his beloved
mother and father!
At one point, Pulling seems to have believed 1 out of every 12 people in the state of Virginia
were involved in a satanic conspiracy
One is surprised to see she also didn't list Red Book of Westmarch
, Venus on the Half-shell
, or The Seven Minutes
In Seller's own words on his web site before his execution in 1999 "I found that a group was making me some kind of poster child in their campaign to oppose the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. I don't like the D&D, I have some strong opinions about it, but these people were making Dungeons & Dragons the reason I was in prison, and that just wasn't true. They were using me to support their OWN cause. They were writing about me with a specific agenda
in mind, and creating an image of me to fit that agenda."