A lawsuit (also seen here) against the makers of Lineage II, a video game I hadn’t heard of until reading this story, has just survived a motion to dismiss. What is this lawsuit about, you ask? One player claims that he became addicted to the game, which made it almost impossible for him to function in real life, causing him significant monetary damages, and emotional distress.
A federal judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit. Now, this doesn’t mean the plaintiff has won – far from it. It just means that his complaint alleged some cause of action for which relief can be granted. If this case goes to trial, he’ll have to prove all of those allegations.
The claim made by the plaintiff is basically that the video game should have carried a warning that it might be psychologically addictive, and that he would not have bought or played the game if the package carried such a warning. He claims to have played the game for over 20,000 hours between 2004 and 2009. According to the Google calculator, there are about 43,000 hours in 5 years. That means he spent nearly half of his time – not just half of his waking hours, or half of his free time – playing this game. That’s kind of hard to imagine, but there it is.
The plaintiff has an uphill fight, to say the least. There are very few cases where the law has imposed a duty of care on a particular industry because their product is addictive. The most obvious example, of course, is tobacco. The other is casinos – if you’ve been in a casino in the last decade or so, you probably see pamphlets with information about problem gambling, and you can bet that casino owners don’t provide them out of the kindness of their hearts.
With tobacco, the cigarette companies misled the public for years about the addictive nature of their products. Gambling is a heavily regulated industry in places in which it’s legal, and gambling addiction has been a well-known problem for years, and while any addiction can lead to personal and financial ruin, a gambling addiction is particularly likely to have this effect.
But alcoholic beverages don’t have to carry warnings about alcoholism, and junk food doesn’t have to warn consumers of compulsive overeating. The fact is that a person can become addicted to any activity which activates the pleasure center in their brain. If they have an addictive personality, they might be unable, or find it extremely difficult, to stop that activity. That’s an unfortunate fact of life, and if someone has recognized that they have an addictive personality, they need to be very careful with just about everything (and hope they have a supportive network of friends and family). But, putting aside the few exceptions mentioned above, is addiction really a legal issue?
I don’t think so.
Because it’s possible to become addicted to nearly anything (including video games, to the point that there’s a support group for people who have been “widowed” by video game addiction), it would follow that every single product that could, even in theory, give someone enjoyment should carry a warning that it may become addictive. That simply can’t be right.
And as far as I can tell, there isn’t any evidence that video games are particularly addictive, relative to other recreational activities. However, they are the frequent subject of moral panics, and there are tens of millions of people in the U.S. who play video games on a regular basis, and video games are a multibillion dollar industry. It’s no surprise, then, that stories about video game addiction make the news more frequently than stories about addiction to underwater basket weaving, even if the same percentage of participants in those respective activities become addicted.
While I’ve been skeptical of calls for “tort reform” in the past, seeing it as a self-serving effort on the part of powerful interest groups to make it easier for them to avoid compensating victims of their wrongdoing, that doesn’t mean I’m dogmatically “pro-lawsuit.” I don’t think that the solution to every problem can be found in a courtroom.
When a person spends 12+ hours per day playing a video game, at the expense of their careers and relationships, they have problems that run much deeper than the financial harm they’ve caused themselves, and should probably seek professional help. And unless this plaintiff ends up proving at trial that the video game companies knew their products were addictive and/or harmful, and actively hid this from the public a la the tobacco companies (not likely), he should not prevail.
His case is certainly sad, and I genuinely hope that he’s able to move past this stage of his life, but I just can’t see how his situation is the fault of the people who made the game.