Video Game Addiction Lawsuits Seek Damages From Microsoft, Google, Sony and Other Developers

Some parents say their children spend $350 a month on their video game addiction, and harmful techniques employed by the developers leave children with severe depression, anxiety, and bursts of rage.

A growing number of families are now pursuing video game addiction lawsuits, alleging that companies like Microsoft, Epic, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Nintendo intentionally design their products to induce psychological addiction and gambling addiction among teens and young adults, resulting in a number of harmful side effects.

At least five such complaints have been filed in federal courts nationwide, blaming the national video game addiction problems experienced by American youths on how video game manufacturers utilize tactics, such as “live service” games and “microtransactions,” to keep children playing and spending on their platform for as long as possible.

The lawsuits claim that the major video game developers and publishing houses specifically design video games to create addictive properties, particularly in multiplayer online “live service” games, like Call of Duty, Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto 5 and others. Plaintiffs claim these games illegally monitor children’s activity online and use algorithms based off their behavior to keep them playing longer. They then attempt to sell them game improvements or “cosmetic” items for small, seemingly digestible amounts.

Another frequently used tactic, known as loot boxes, requires players to pay a set amount for a randomly-selected prize or prizes. However, the most useful or rewarding of those prizes are designed to “drop” extremely rarely, forcing players to buy again and again to get what they want. The lawsuits claim the way the video games are designed and presented makes them indistinguishable from gambling.

Similar Social Media Addiction Lawsuits

The complaints against video game developers raise allegations that are similar to those currently being pursued in a number of social media addiction lawsuits brought against Meta, Google, TikTok and other companies, which claim that those platforms are intentionally designed to manipulate and maximize user time and engagement, as well as the type of content that users see.

The social media lawsuits claim these tactics cause addiction and self-destructive behavior among teens, resulting in anxiety, depression, eating disorders and psychological damage, which has led to attempted or actual suicides, especially among young girls.

Each of the social media platform giants have been accused of ignoring clear evidence about the harmful consequences of their behavior, indicating that they have refused to do anything to prevent the addiction and emotional distress, since it would directly impact the profits generated.

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Lawsuits Allege Video Games Are Designed To Be Addictive

In one complaint (PDF) filed against numerous game developers in November, including Microsoft, Epic Games, Nintendo, Google, EA and Ubisoft; Casey and Thomas Dunn, of Arkansas indicate their 12 year old son, identified only as G.D., has developed an addiction to Fortnite, Rainbow Six, Battlefield, and Call of Duty.

They indicate G.D. spends up to $350 per month on gaming, and has incurred about $3,000 overall on in-game purchases, not including monthly subscription fees for game services or the costs of the games themselves.

G.D.’s parents note that he has no friends, weighs about 300 lbs., cannot behave in school and must be homeschooled. They fear taking the games away or restricting his game time, due to his volatile temper, which they claim is a common side effect of video game addiction.

A similar lawsuit (PDF) filed by Preston Johnson and his mother, Elizabeth Jones, indicates Johnson also spends about $350 a month on gaming, due to his addiction to Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Fortnite, Roblox, Minecraft, and Grand Theft Auto 5. The lawsuit notes that Johnson, 21, even sold his car for significantly less than its market value, which he spent on various in-game purchases and microtransactions.

Video Game Addiction Concerns

According to the lawsuits, video game addiction, also known as internet gaming disorder, results in individuals putting video gaming as a priority over other activities, causes loss of social function and cognitive decline. This can result in stress, aggressive behavior, loss of impulse control, depression, anxiety, and other behavioral addictions.

It is estimated that about three to six million children and young adults in the U.S. suffer from video game addiction to the point of being non-functioning members of society, the lawsuits claim.

“Each Defendant is aware that its video games are harmful to minors and young adults because Defendants specifically designed their games to addict,” the Dunn’s lawsuit states. “To this avail, each Defendant employs behavioral psychologists and/or neuroscientists in order to develop games that will best utilize psychological tactics to keep players engaged for longer periods of time.”

Motion for Video Game Addiction Lawsuit MDL

On March 14, the Dunns and several other plaintiffs filed a motion to transfer (PDF) with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), requesting that all lawsuits filed over video game addiction injuries be consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri for coordinated pretrial proceedings. The lawsuits target virtually every main game developer in the industry as defendants, particularly those who focus on online gaming.

The plaintiffs, representing all five cases filed to date, argue that consolidating the cases as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) would prevent duplicative discovery and contradictory rulings, and provide convenience to the Court, parties and witnesses, according to the motion.

If the JPML agrees to create a video game addiction MDL, the judge overseeing the litigation would likely schedule a series of early “bellwether” trials to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation. However, if the lawsuits are not resolved during the MDL proceedings, either through a video game addiction settlement agreement or other ruling, the cases may be transferred back to their originating court for trial.

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