The Weekly Week, March 26, 1998

LAKE GENEVA — Across the nation, parents are up in arms over Deductions & Debentures, TSR's new role-playing game. Since its release six months ago, the accounting-themed fantasy game has attracted thousands of avid players, most of them teens and young adults. Now parents worry that their devotion may run too deep.

"He doesn't sleep, he doesn't eat, he doesn't go to school anymore," said Jeanne Reynolds, whose 14-year-old son Gerald plays the game. "He's completely obsessed."

Like TSR's other role-playing games, Deductions & Debentures creates an all-consuming fantasy world that can engross participants for hours and days on end. Under the guidance of a 'Chief Accountant,' players take part in day-long 'adventures,' which involve eight hours of writing 'journal entries' into mystical 'ledgers.' Participants then prepare a 'financial statement' for a 'corporation.'

The Chief Accountant will either write the adventures himself or use TSR's ready-made scenarios, which include "The Accounts Payable of Argoth," "The Lost Liabilities of Martek," and "The Capital Lease Obligations of the Lizard King."

Parents are afraid that these adventures are more engrossing than their children can handle. "Our son Micah used to be such a nice boy -- he had long hair, listened to Megadeth and lit woodland animals on fire," said Brenda Gerstner of Denver. "Now he wears khakis every day, and is always talking about the Financial Accounting Standards Board's rule 123 -- which is disturbing, because we already use a fair-value based method in accounting for employee stock options."

Religious leaders have also denounced the game, claiming that its accounting focus leads youths down a path of false spirituality. In fact, Fr. John Parsons of St. Luke's Church in Atlanta claims that he has seen instances of demonic possession result from D&D. "A wild-eyed young man came into the church one day and began to speak in tongues, praising the name of the devil and criticizing the church's policy of revenue recognition," recalled Parsons. "I said, 'Begone, Satan -- the only revenues we recognize here are the revenues of our Lord Jesus Christ.'"

The element of D&D that community leaders fear most is its use of 'characters,' or alternate personas that participants assume while in adventures. At the start of the game each player rolls dice to determine their character's skill level in four key attributes: Math, Thoroughness, Familiarity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and Affability. Over the course of an adventure, characters can accumulate useful objects or win special powers. For example, Gerald Reynolds's character 'Fred Milton' has a magic dwarven spreadsheet and has gained "+1 against audit."

This ability to lose one's identity in D&D is precisely what attracts many disaffected people to the game. "My life is such a drag," said the bassist for a nationally known rock band, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "All the gigs, the cheering fans, the one-night stands, the crystal meth. But when we get together and play D&D, suddenly my whole world changes. It's like I'm there, you know -- it's like I really am a tax accountant."

A spokesperson for TSR denied that the game is harmful. "For many in today's society, an escapist fantasy is not only healthy, but necessary. The world of accounting is just more exciting and creatively challenging than the world we live in."

But parents tell a different story, one of children's identities swallowed up by an evil accounting fantasy world. Jeanne Reynolds, for one, simply hopes that she can rescue her son from what she sees as a "D&D addiction."

"It's like I've lost him," she said tearfully. "Sure, we got our taxes done three months early this year. And that refund! Gerald found some loopholes that we frankly didn't know about, but ... like I was saying, I just want my little boy back."