A few days ago, Wired’s Threat Level blog reported that a man from Hawaii was suing the makers of Lineage II because the virtual-world game supposedly made him “unable to function independently in usual daily activities such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing or communicating with family and friends.” The man claims to have played 20,000 hours of Lineage II between 2004 and 2009, which breaks down to 80 hours per week for 5 years. A federal judge is allowing the lawsuit to proceed, in spite of Lineage II developers NCsoft asking for it to be dismissed.
Game addiction can be devastating to a person and the loved ones around the addict. I feel bad for the guy that has grown dependent on this game. However, I don’t think this case should see the light of day in court because I think the fundamentals of his claim against NCsoft are based in flawed logic.
I’m not trying to be a jerk when I say he doesn’t have a case, nor am I trying to downplay the 20,000 hours of his life he won’t get back. My problem lies in this statement from Craig Smallwood, who is the plaintiff. He says that NCsoft, “acted negligently in failing to warn or instruct or adequately warn or instruct plaintiff and other players of Lineage II of its dangerous and defective characteristics, and of the safe and proper method of using the game.”
Dangerous and defective characteristics? Safe and proper method of using the game? What is this, cocaine? It’s a video game. Yes, a video game can be addictive like cocaine, but exactly how they’re addictive is where I think his case falls apart.
There are only two types of addiction (three if you count drug addiction as its own thing, but that’s a moot point in this discussion): substance dependence and behavioural addiction. Substance dependence would be used to classify people addicted to drugs and alcohol, where the chemicals in those substances can corrupt your judgment by throwing off the balance of chemicals in your brain. There are laws and regulations that limit the use of certain substances or ban them completely due to the high potential of these substances affecting you in that manner.
Behavioural addiction applies to any compulsion that isn’t substance-related, such as gambling or excessive pornography consumption. That behaviour to do those things in excess amounts comes from within, not from an external source.
If video games were a substance, I think Craig Smallwood would be in the right to make the claims that he has. The problem is, video games aren’t a substance. They don’t physically go into your brain and alter your judgment. It may have ruined his life in a similar fashion that cocaine could have, but NCsoft didn’t make him addicted to it or put in some secret ingredients that warped his mind. They just made a game. It was his behaviour that put him in his current predicament.
I see people say that game-makers make their games too addictive all the time, and it drives me nuts. The only thing a game-maker can do is make a game. How much fun you get from it or how addicted you get to it is dependent on the person playing it. A lot of people want to lump video game addiction in with substance abuse, but it doesn’t work that way at all.
On top of that, If you were to start punishing people for creating behavioural addiction in others, then you would have to throw a majority of the population in jail. Anything can become a behavioural addiction depending on the person. For instance, if I claimed that I had a shoe-collecting addiction, could I then have the grounds to sue every shoe manufacturer and retailer I’ve ever bought shoes from because they didn’t warn me about how dangerous shoe-collecting is?
Let me restate that I think video game addiction is a real problem and can be just as awful as any other addiction. However, I still hope the court sees that this isn’t NCsoft’s problem. Craig Smallwood’s case is a case about behavioural addiction, not substance dependence. NCsoft in my eyes has done nothing wrong and setting a precedent that NCsoft did do something wrong opens up a whole other can of worms that would be extremely messy to deal with.
More important than the semantics of addiction though, is the fact that there’s one man here among many that needs help. I hope that wherever this goes, he and other video game addicts gets the help they needs to overcome this.