Radecki on Trial: The Psychiatrist who Attacked D&D
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    Radecki on Trial: The Psychiatrist who Attacked D&D

    In the 80s, Dungeons & Dragons was all the rage with kids, a new target market for TSR who only recently discovered. As the D&D franchise expanded, including a cartoon, toys, and of course the Advanced and Basic versions of the game. The influence of the game did not go unnoticed, and it was blamed for a rash of teen suicides. The expert who testified in many of these cases has recently been sentenced to prison for charges related to opioid prescriptions.

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    Who Was Thomas Radecki?

    Thomas Radecki was known as a staunch anti-Dungeons & Dragons advocate who testified on several occasions about D&D harming children. Joseph Laycock explains in Dangerous Games how Radecki formed an alliance with Patricia Pulling to create Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (BADD):

    One of the most important alliances Pulling formed was with Thomas Radecki, a psychiatrist and founder of the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV). While Radecki did not claim that D& D was Satanically motivated, he did insist that it was a dire social problem. He told Christianity Today, “I don’t believe TSR . . . wants to do harm or promote violence, but this game is detrimental to millions of people.” 52 Radecki also showed no qualms about presenting fallacious statistics, such as the claim that one in eight Hollywood movies contains a rape scene. 53 BADD and NCTV essentially became one organization, with Pulling and Radecki traveling the country together and organizing concerted campaigns against TSR.

    In this press release he is identified as a M.D., psychiatrist at the University of Illinois School of Medicine, and chairman of the National Coalition on Television Violence:
    The evidence in these cases is really quite impressive. There is no doubt in my mind that the game Dungeons and Dragons is causing young men to kill themselves and others. The game is one of non-stop combat and violence. Although I am sure that the people at TSR mean no harm, that is exactly what their games are causing. Based on player interviews and game materials, it is clear to me that this game is desensitizing players to violence, and, causing an increased tendency to violent behavior.

    Radecki's response to Dr. Joyce Brothers' assertion that D&D promotes cooperation:

    While Dungeons and Dragons is a game of cooperation and working together, that cooperation involves cooperating in violence, premeditated murder, and war. While it does stimulate creative fantasies, these fantasies are of killing and horror. There is a need to get the honest information out to the American people. The research is overwhelming that violent entertainment is having a harmful effect on its participants. The changes are most often gradual and subtle. When a children's game is documented to cause many death, it should not be promoted through advertising and cartoon programming. Every Saturday morning millions of children see the half-hour CBS Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, introducing them to this violent game.

    Dr. Radecki was also the founder of the National Coalition of Television Violence (NCTV).

    Following in Wertham's Footsteps

    Radecki was following in the footsteps of psychiatrist Fredrik Wertham, who waged a similar crusade against comics, as described in Dungeons & Dreamers:

    A crusader against the comics rose to speak for broader parental concerns. Psychiatrist Fredrik Wertham believed that the bloody titles were a dangerous influence on children. Working as a consultant to ambitious senator Estes Kefauver, he helped spur high-profile hearings in 1954, spotlighting the excesses of the comic book industry. Just a few months before the hearings, he published a book outlining his thoughts on the issue, titled Seduction of the Innocent.

    Wertham used the same tactics Radecki would use decades later:

    Wertham "manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence" in support of the contentions expressed in Seduction of the Innocent. He intentionally mis-projected both the sample size and substance of his research, making it out to be more objective and less anecdotal than it truly was. He generally did not adhere to standards worthy of scientific research, instead using questionable evidence as rhetorical ammunition for his argument that comics were a cultural failure.

    RPG advocate and game designer Michael A. Stackpole explained in "The Pulling Report" how flawed Radecki's approach was:

    Their study of best selling books from 1905-1988, was undertaken “to determine whether there has been an increase in violent themes in bestseller books during the 20th century.” One would assume, given the scope of the study, reviewers would be asked to read all of the books on the list and to rate the books for acts of violence, both pro- and anti-social.

    This was not how the study was done. Dr. Radecki explains:

    NCTV invested hundreds of hours of work in the bestseller study so as to be as objective and fair as possible. The total cost of the study with all its aspects is close to $8,000 and took over three years for its initial beginning with many reworkings. [The study has one primary researcher and two other major contributors.] NCTV considered reading the entirety of the 800 books involved in the bestseller study, but found that some of the books would have been difficult to obtain and the cost of the study would have tripled, beyond the financial abilities of NCTV to undertake.

    Stackpole points out that libraries and grants could have mitigated these costs, and that the actual reading list is only 725 as some of the books repeat (one made the list four times). Worse, book reviews were used to determine the violence ratings for the bestsellers from 1905-1984. The second phase of the study involved randomly selecting books from the shelves of Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Books in Champaign, Illinois:

    The various categories of popular books were compared and the brief sketches on the book cover were presumed to be related to the contents of the books. It does not take a rocket scientist to remember that judging a book by its cover is a dangerous thing. Moreover, as a published novelist who knows many other published novelists, the author of this report can state, categorically, that covers and cover blurbs often bear no connection to the work inside. More often than not, back cover copy is written by a marketing individual who has not even read the book! The idea that a paragraph on the back of a book or the eye-catching excerpt printed on the inside front page could sum up a novel of over 100,000 words is absurd and insulting.

    Radecki's conclusion? That 79% of all paperbacks featured violent themes, broken down by 100% for spy/intrigue and crime/detective, 98% for sword & sorcery, 96% for horror, and 81% for science fiction. The least violent books were modern romances with 33%. Stackpole explains how this shaky judgment of what's violent later contributed to the negative assessments of RPGs:

    It is with this perspective, then, that we can take a brief look at the problems with the list of “cases” concerning games and their diabolical content that both Dr. Radecki and Mrs. Pulling tout so heavily. Perhaps the author’s favorite of the Pulling cases is the very first one that appears on the NCTV list: “Name withheld, details confidential at request of family, age 14, 1979, suicide.” This sort of reporting with vague details is characteristic of 5 other cases on the list of 37 NCTV first presented.

    BADD/NCTV's list of deaths due to D&D changed frequently:

    In 1985, the BADD/NCTV list contained 37 dead individuals and 5 “non-fatal” cases of D&D violence. They note “...there are 8 more deaths (6 suicides and 2 murders) in which the information is confidential. Pat Pulling & Tom Radecki are investigating an additional 7 murders that have been recently reported to us in 3 separate cases. Deaths are being reported at the rate of about 5 per month.” In a January 1987 release, however, the list has only grown by two murders and the above rate projection has been amended to read, “Deaths are being reported at the rate of three to four per month.”...Despite the shuffling, the fact is that 120 new cases did not materialize between 1985 and 1987. Likewise, 108 new cases did not arise between 1987 and 1990, despite NCTV’s dire predictions. In fact, the only new cases to come to light are those of Sean Sellers, Jeffrey Meyers, Cliff Meling and Daniel Kasten. Adding the 8 deaths between those four cases to the 39 NCTV has already still puts us rather shy Pat Pulling’s reported 125 cases.

    At one point, Radecki even quoted a fictional book, Mazes and Monsters:

    As an aside, the 1985 release is the one in which Dr. Radecki quotes from “the investigative book, ‘Mazes and Monsters’ by Rona Jaffe.”85 Jaffe’s book is a novel, set at an imaginary college in an imaginary town in Pennsylvania. The fact that it is fiction does not stop Radecki from quoting a letter written to the school’s newspaper about the dangers of D&D as if it were a testimonial. For one who spends a great deal of time trying to determine if kids know the difference between fantasy and reality, Dr. Radecki, like Mrs. Pulling, seems to have developed his own problem in that area.

    In "When Dragons Play Dungeons" we discussed how the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Wisconsin prison’s rule forbidding inmates to play Dungeons & Dragons or possess D&D publications and materials. The prison officials pointed to a few published circuit court cases to give traction to their views and the court viewed these cases as "persuasive evidence that for some individuals, games like D&D can impede rehabilitation, lead to escapist tendencies, or result in more dire consequences." Some of those cases involved Radecki's testimony, as we shall see.

    The Cases

    In 1984, Darren Molitor and Ron Adcox of St. Louis, Missouri, tied their friend Mary Towey up in her basement as a prank during a drunken party. Laycock picks up the thread:

    Molitor put an ace bandage around her neck “to mess with her mind,” and the pair went upstairs to continue drinking. When they returned to release the girl, they found that she had died from asphyxiation. They buried her in the woods and fled to Atlanta, Georgia, where the FBI apprehended them. Molitor was charged with first-degree murder. In court, he claimed that D& D was responsible for Towey’s death because he had become “desensitized” to violence through hours of play. Radecki and Pulling supported this claim and volunteered to testify as expert witnesses. A judge ruled that testimony about D& D was irrelevant, and Molitor was convicted.

    In 1987, he testified as an expert on the effects of Dungeons & Dragons on behalf of Darren Molitor on appeal. Radecki's statement:

    The tendency toward that type of behavior could very certainly be increased by D&D play. What the intent of the young male at the time of the incident is, you know, is a different question and I wouldn't have any knowledge of that. But the tendency towards that type of behavior could certainly very easily be increased by D&D played, especially when the two people have played together. There's more of a desensitization of playing with violence between the two of them and it's certainly possible that -- you know, it's certainly likely, indeed, that there is a desensitization towards playing with violence or even commission of intentional violent behavior between the two. I don't have any knowledge of the particulars of the intent in this case.

    The trial court rejected Radecki's testimony as being irrelevant. In Meyer v. Branker, 506 F.3d 358, 370 (4th Cir. 2007), the court noted that defendant Meyer “was obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons,” and that “this obsession caused ‘[him] to retreat into a fantasy world of Ninja warriors’."

    On December 1, 1986, Jeffrey Karl Meyer and Mark Thompson broke into a home owned by Paul and Janie Kutz. At the time, Meyer and Thompson were heavily armed and dressed in the clothing of "ninja" warriors. Meyer and Thompson, soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, had planned to rob the elderly Kutzs for some time. Meyer and Thompson shot Kutz with a blow gun and then stabbed him to death with a butterfly knife over ten times. They then murdered his wife in the same fashion. Overwhelming evidence linked Meyer and Thompson to the crimes. They were intercepted by a police officer while armed as ninjas and possessing the Kutz' personal belongings. Forensic evidence placed them at the crime. Meyer even confessed to the crime to a fellow inmate on a separate charge.

    During his hearings, Meyer introduced testimonial evidence from two psychiatrists. In 1988, Dr. Selwyn Rose testified that Meyer was obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons, and that this obsession caused the defendant to "retreat into a fantasy world of Ninja warriors." The second testimonial, by Radecki, stated that Meyer "was so out of touch with reality…that he was living out a game, living out a fantasy…I really don’t think he appreciated really seriously what he was doing. He’s a very sick man…" After hearing this testimony, the jury unanimously found that Meyer had committed his crime "while . . . under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance." Despite the presence of this mitigating factor, however, the jury sentenced Meyer to death.

    Radecki testified in at least 12 other cases, all rejected. Despite the repeated failure of the "D&D defense," Radecki claimed otherwise:

    In 1988 Radecki claimed that more than fifty defendants had been convicted after using the D& D defense. But Pulling and Radecki were never discouraged that the D& D defense failed, because the defense allowed them to use the courtroom as a public pulpit to advance their agenda. Publishers and television networks scrambled to capitalize on the Christopher Pritchard case, resulting in two books, Cruel Doubt by Joe McGinniss and Blood Games by Jerry Bledsoe. In 1991 and 1992, both books were adapted into made-for-TV dramas, Cruel Doubt and Honor Thy Mother, the former of which featured Gwyneth Paltrow. All of this media served to galvanize the association between D& D and murder in the public consciousness. Newspaper articles about these trials often described Pulling and Radecki as “national authorities” on role-playing games. Some of the convicted criminals continued to insist that D& D had caused them to commit crimes, and became assets for BADD. In this way, BADD continued to gain an influence that was disproportionate to its limited size, resources, and expertise.

    In short, the goal of BADD and Radecki was never to win trials but rather to use pulpit as a platform to advance their political agenda. Despite not winning any cases, Radecki's legacy lives on, as the Wisconsin court's ruling demonstrates.

    And What of Radecki?

    Laycock catalogs Radecki's fall in Dangerous Games:

    Thomas Radecki was forced to retire from public life amid scandal. He had claimed to be on the faculty of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana medical school. Cardwell investigated and found that Radecki had briefly held the “clinical faculty” status given to doctors who are accredited to practice at a teaching hospital. But this title was revoked in 1985, long before Radecki stopped claiming to be a faculty member at the medical school. In March 1992, he quit NCTV and turned it over to his Beverly Hills colleague, Carole Lieberman. Shortly thereafter, his license as a physician was revoked for five years for “immoral conduct of an unprofessional nature with a patient.” Radecki’s license was eventually restored, but in 2012 he voluntarily surrendered it, amid charges that he was trading prescription drugs for sexual favors.

    More recently, Radecki is accused of creating a veritable drug empire:

    Federal law limits doctors to 100 buprenorphine patients. When Mr. Radecki reached his 100-patient limit, he built a network of as many as 13 “consulting” physicians, who worked for him for one day per month and effectively boosted his patient limit, according to a grand jury presentment. His network was eventually prescribing buprenorphine to 972 patients through four offices, according to trial testimony.

    From there, Radecki expanded his network:

    At one point, Radecki had more than 1,000 patients, most of whom he claimed to be treating with drugs like Subutex to wean them away from heroin and other addictions. Prosecutors contend he was merely getting them hooked on the anti-addiction drugs themselves...The grand jury determined Radecki also used his home to store about $5 million worth of prescription drugs, based on the street prices he allegedly charged at his all-cash practice in 2011 and early 2012.

    Radecki was accused of overprescribing anti-addiction and anti-anxiety drugs and trading them for favors with female patients -- including one who bore his child:
    Radecki would first move his new girlfriend/patient into an apartment across the street, then into his home as he jettisoned whichever woman was currently living there, the grand jury found. Radecki’s girlfriends also allegedly worked at his clinics and were given money and drugs. Radecki also illegally prescribed Adderall and Ritalin, which are stimulants commonly used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, authorities said.

    State Attorney Mark Serge said:
    The individual costs were staggering. He used his practice to exploit nine vulnerable patients. When one of his patients came to him, she had no drug problems, she just needed some psychiatric help and she left an addict because he prescribed suboxone for a shoulder problem she had, but that was already being dealt with by another physician.

    Radecki's defense:

    "I never prescribed a pill I didn't sincerely think wouldn't be helping patients out and I never pressured patients to do anything in exchange for treatment," Radecki told President Judge James Arner. "At no point did I think I was breaking the law or doing anything but helping patients out."

    Radecki was sentenced to 11 to 22 years in prison on June 2, 2016.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, and communicator. You can follow him at Patreon.
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  2. #2

    Cutpurse (Lvl 5)



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    Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. At least he won't be exposed to evil dungeons and dragons while in prison!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dorian_Grey View Post
    Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. At least he won't be exposed to evil dungeons and dragons while in prison!
    Some prisons ban it, but in those that don't, I gather that D&D is popular. Gotta pass the time somehow.
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    Wertham was a HUGE detriment to the development of comic book as an acceptable art form in the U.S. I think there's a direct connection between him and the rise to dominance of superheroes in the genre here in the U.S.

    Jack Thompson was the face of the anti video game/violence caused by video games factions, until recently. He was disbarred and that pretty much put an end to his crusade since nobody could really take him seriously after that.

    Then we have Radecki with role playing games. I think his crusade was the most detrimental of the three, since the stigma he helped manufacture in the 80's still colors the opinions of many people.

    And there have been countless people in the past and present claiming television, movies, book, etc. are the cause for warping the minds of the youth and causing them to all sorts of stuff. What you hardly ever hear about is how the lack of good parenting or attention from concerned loved ones could have helped prevent bad stuff. Of course, love and attention could be in abundance and people still go out and do bad things.

    You just can't place the blame on something external just because it was there.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Dorian_Grey View Post
    Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. At least he won't be exposed to evil dungeons and dragons while in prison!
    He might get exposed to some of the rules from FATAL, though.

    More seriously, though, sounds like a guy with lots of problems, it's a shame he had so many people looking to him for professional health guidance.
    Laugh Orius, Dorian_Grey laughed with this post

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    Funny, I had just been doing some reading on Pulling and Radecki earlier today (first time I had bothered with them in a decade or two).

    Yea, well with someone like Radecki, reality never gets in the way with his own world view. Funny, I saw a guy on TV last night that was a lot like him.

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    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)

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    Excellent article, really expanded my lore on this piece of $*ite.

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    He's where he belongs now.

  9. #9
    This Anti-Roleplaying-Movement in the US due to "it makes people kill" still sounds strange to me (as a European). We never had something like that over here (at least when I played D&D in the 80s I never noticed anything like it here). Roleplaying Games were not popular with parents either, sure, but nobody had the idea they would made kids kill themselves or any such nonsense. They just said "try to live in the real world for a change, this game is just pure fantasy, and because of that you should not play it". Interesting to know what sort of person this guy really was, anyways!

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    Magsman (Lvl 14)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brodie View Post
    I think his crusade was the most detrimental of the three, since the stigma he helped manufacture in the 80's still colors the opinions of many people.
    Really? I haven't noticed that. I know of a half dozen evangelical ministers who are GMs, and some are freelance RPG author/designers. While anecdotal, I've been quite open about my hobby while running a graphic design studio in my hometown. Clients see my maps on display in my shop, and when asked about them, I fully explain this for my own home D&D/PF games or for game publishers. In over 20 years operating my shop, I haven't seen nor heard any form of negativity from any of the clients I speak with. My clients include everyone - professionals, teachers, business owners, Christian ministers, politicians, homemakers, students... everybody. I've even had the local newspaper write 2 articles over the past 10 years about my map making and freelance game work. If there were negative connotations with gaming, I don't think the journalists would be so eager to promote what I do.

    I'm not saying such people you describe are not still out there, but they must be under a rock, as I've seen no evidence of that.
    Last edited by gamerprinter; Wednesday, 12th October, 2016 at 05:46 PM.

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