Drugs. Tobacco. Cocaine. Fortnite.
Earlier this week, a Canadian law firm filed a class-action lawsuit against Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite, on behalf of parents of two children who are allegedly “addicted” to Fortnite. The plaintiffs, identified only by their initials, FN and JZ, are the parents of a 10-and 15-year-old, respectively.
The $3 billion cultural phenomenon has nearly 250 million users worldwide, allowing up to 100 players to fight in a virtual battlefield, took 2018 by storm.
But who hasn’t heard of “addiction” claims before when it comes to video-games? Think back to Grand Theft Auto 3, Kingdom Hearts, Call of Duty, and Battlefield. All addicting, still to this day, but we don’t hear similar legal claims surrounding these games.
Roughly, a quarter of a billion gamers are battling it out in Fortnite, which we are pretty sure you know a good number of kids who are part of that statistic.
Though “Fortnite” is free to play, kids spend gobs of real money purchasing the in-game currency, V-Bucks, used for dances (which are called “emotes”), skins and custom outfits for their virtual alter-egos.
The lawsuit, written in french, was filed by Calex Légal compares Fortnite to cocaine and tobacco, claiming that Epic Games, “knowingly put on the market a very, very addictive game which was also geared toward youth.”
The parents claim Fortnite causes the brain to release dopamine much in the same way as taking drugs like cocaine, which results in a chemical addiction, according to the lawsuit. Okay, walk me through this one.
The basis for this lawsuit relates back to a 2015 lawsuit against tobacco companies, where the Quebec Superior Court ruled that companies did not do enough to warn customers about the dangers of smoking. This can be said about most tobacco companies, even in the United States.
Alessandra Esposito Chartrand, an attorney with Calex Légal, told the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) in Canada that it was Epic’s duty to issue similar warnings around the addictive nature of “Fortnite.”
If you have ever traveled abroad to places like Africa and India, tobacco products are labeled quite differently than what we are used to here in the U.S.. Instead of small disclaimers at the bottom of the carton or pack, there are enormously disturbing images of someone’s black lung, infected with cancer, and similarly horrid images, to attempt to steer consumers away.
In the current lawsuit against Fortnite, the complaint alleges that Epic Games “knew” Fortnite was “dangerously addictive” but did not warn players of the risks associated with playing. I can’t seem to wrap my head around this logic, as this is no different than the other video games I listed at the beginning of this article.
“The defendants used the same tactics as the creators of slot machines, or variable reward programs, (to ensure) the dependence of its users, (and) the brain being manipulated to always want more,” the suit alleges in a rough translation. “Children are particularly vulnerable to this manipulation since their self-control system in the brain is not developed enough.”
What Happens Next?
The Canadian suit isn’t the first time Epic Games has faced a potential class action.
In June, a federal case was brought in the northern district of California that alleged in part that “Fortnite” lacks built-in “parental controls that would allow parents or guardians of minors to make informed decisions regarding in-app purchases” and that minors who change their mind after making a purchase, even minutes after doing so, are not allowed a refund.
A spokesperson for Epic Games told USA Today said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation. Epic has 30 days to respond to the current legal action. The case could take up to a year or so
However, Fortnite includes a waiver to stop people from being part of a class action lawsuit.
However, Calex Légal claims that, in Quebec, the Consumer Protection Act would govern, which requires companies to warn customers about potential risks, like addiction.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized “Gaming Disorder” in its International Statistical Classification of Diseases or ICD-11. The WHO deliberately avoids using the word “addiction” in its classification, defining “gaming disorder” as a behavioural problem which lasts for 12 consecutive months or longer.
Is Epic Games a manufacturer of chemical compounds and tobacco products, or is it a video game developer? Because if this logic actually holds up, whose to say that other developers such as Rockstar Games, Activision, Electronic Arts, and the like aren’t subject to similar claims?
We will be following this lawsuit closely, but holy cow, this has to be one of the more ridiculous claims we’ve heard in awhile.