Lawsuit Claims Video Games Are Designed to Cause Addiction in Children

Teen was only 11 years old when he became addicted to video games due to predatory designs employed by several major developers

A Georgia teen has filed a video game addiction lawsuit against the developers of Fortnite, Call of Duty, Minecraft and other popular games, alleging that he suffered brain damage, behavioral problems and mental health issues due to intentionally addictive game designs.

The complaint (PDF) was brought last month by Michael Antonetti in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, pursuing damages from several major developers, including Activision, Rockstar, Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. and Ubisoft, as well as game platform manufacturers Microsoft and Nintendo.

The lawsuit alleges that the video games are intentionally designed to cause addictions among children, by monitoring their activity online and using algorithms based off of their behavior to keep them playing longer. 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.

Antonetti’s claim joins a growing number of similar lawsuits being pursued over video game addictions, maintaining that the products are designed and presented in a way that makes them indistinguishable from gambling.

The allegations also come a similar claims are being pursued against Meta, Google, TikTok and other companies in social media addiction lawsuits brought by parents and school districts, who claim that those platforms are also intentionally designed to manipulate and maximize user time and engagement, as well as the type of content that users see. They claim platforms like Facebook and Instagram lead to severe mental trauma for many teens and children, resulting in a wide range of injuries, from sexual exploitation to suicide.

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Antonetti, 19, indicates he first began playing video games when he was 11 years old, and quickly became addicted to several popular products, including Call of Duty Series, Overwatch, Fortnight, Rainbow Six, Minecraft and others.

According to the complaint, he played these games on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox platforms, which Antonetti says aided developers in their efforts to lead children into expensive and mentally crippling video game addiction.

As a result of the defendants’ practices and game designs, Antonetti indicates he suffered brain damage, behavioral problems, poor school performance, gamers rage, severe emotional distress, diminished social interactions, and has required outpatient counseling and private tutoring.

“By acquiring—and addicting—users when they are young, Defendants are securing their profit stream by ensuring future engagement and monetization as these young users age,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants are exploiting consumers, particularly minors and young adults, with unfair, unconscionable, and deceptive trade practices and conduct that prioritizes gamer engagement and spending over gamer safety.”

Video Game Addiction Lawsuits

According to this and similar lawsuits filed in recent months, video game addiction, also known as internet gaming disorder, leads to  individuals putting video games as a priority over other activities, resulting in loss of social function and cognitive decline. This can also cause 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.

In March, several plaintiffs filed a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML), requesting the creation of a video game addiction lawsuit MDL (multidistrict litigation) 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 argue that consolidating the cases as part of a MDL would prevent duplicative discovery and contradictory rulings, and provide convenience to the Court, parties and witnesses, according to the motion.

The JPML agreed to hear oral arguments on the motion at a hearing on May 30. 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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