Can video games be addictive for kids? That’s the question at the heart of a recent lawsuit filed by parents of children in two separate families against Epic Games, the behemoth gaming company that created the videogame Fortnite (clip from tournament above). These parents, pioneering the way towards what they hope to become a class action lawsuit, say that not only did the video game become addictive for their children, but that Epic Games intended it to be that way. Attorney Alessandro Esposito Chartrand of the law firm Calex Legal, which represents the families, explains the allegation of intent asserted in the complaint: “[Epic Games] consulted with psychologists. They spent years perfecting their game, studying human behavior, the human brain to make it as addictive as possible.”
At this stage, momentum just seems to keep growing, while the parents wait to see if the Court will authorize the lawsuit. Although the class certified in this case would cover children living in the Quebec area who have become addicted since 2017, it is likely that other filings will follow suit in the United States and possibly elsewhere. After all, Epic Games itself has boasted that Fortnite has gained more than 250 million players worldwide since its recent launch in 2017.
The game, free initially for use on most platforms, creates virtual reality worlds, in some of which players can battle other players, search for and earn special weapons, tools, and odd sorts of things like an anthropomorphic banana. Many of these weapons, tools, and odd, highly sought-after items are available only through purchase in Fortnite’s virtual store with e-currency—the subject of another separate class-action lawsuit filed by parents in California stating the game tricks children into naively making in-game purchases with their parents’ saved credit card information.
The parents of the two children in the Canadian Fortnite lawsuit are claiming that Epic’s methods are damaging much more than money. The Complaint reads more like a psychological study than a lawsuit, and it discusses the harmful effects that have occurred as a result of the two minors’ gaming addictions. The parent of the younger youth says that he had played more than 1,800 games since starting to play the game in December 2018. “He has been playing Fortnite on an almost daily basis for several months, and he becomes very frustrated and angry when his parents try to limit his playing time,” says the Complaint. The older youth whose parent is pursuing the lawsuit has played no less than 3 hours of the game a day since starting in October 2017, totaling no less than 7,700 games.
Although the role of the parents is always an issue in lawsuits involving minors, the idea that a child can develop a gaming issue is not unique to the Fortnite lawsuit. The World Health Organization identified ‘gaming addiction’ as a mental disorder last year, defining the condition as “having impaired control over gaming…and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” The behavior pattern can only qualify after a 12-month period. Recovery centers, specifically focused on gaming addiction to Fortnite have sprouted worldwide. As for the parents of the children in the Quebec litigation, they would have made a different decision about the videogame, says their other attorney Jean-Phillipe Caron, “[i]f they would have known exactly the extent of which this game was problematic.”