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Video game manufacturers could face addiction lawsuits

The parents of teen boys understand how popular video games are. However, there are also stories in the media of video game players who became so obsessed with a game that they were unable to maintain a job, relationships or education. This leads some to wonder if video games are like a drug where the user can become addicted.

Fortnite faces claims

There is now a class-action lawsuit in Canada against Epic Games, which is the creator of the ubiquitous Fortnite. The extremely popular third-person shooter game has risen to global notoriety, particularly among boys. This has led to a class action on behalf of two parents who claim that the game is so addictive that it has caused harm to their children (ages 10 and 15).

As is the case with smart devices, the legal team argues that playing the game (or others) for extended periods causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which leads to drug addiction behavior. The suit further contends that Epic Games hired a psychologist to help designers make the game as addictive as possible and, thus, hard to stop playing.

The suit further follows the model used against tobacco companies, which understood that their products could cause addiction as well as lead to cancer and poor health. The Canadian parents say there is no warning sticker on video games, which means that many parents and players have no idea how addictive the games are.

There already is a “gaming disorder”

While other organizations want to do more research, the World Health Organization has previously classified gaming disorder as a real disease and lists it on its web site.  It defines it “as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Common neurological effects

Along with the release of dopamine that users get, researchers have found other effects similar to addiction:

  • Poorer working memory and decision-making capabilities
  • Decreased auditory and visual functioning
  • Deficiency in the users’ neuronal reward system

We are not there yet

This could play out like a doomsday scenario for game creators, but critics of this concept point out that many behaviors are addictive, some of which are good habits. It is also well-established that many are addicted to their device, but there are no lawsuits for that.

Parents can try to limit screen time, encourage other healthy outlets and simply talk with their children about gaming. But do not be surprised if some point soon, a lawsuit will emerge here in the United States regarding gaming addiction. Companies would be smart to start planning for that day now.