Fortnite may not have been designed with the deliberate intention of creating addiction, but that is the effect this video game has had on young gamers. Its designer, Epic Games, will therefore have to defend itself from a class action filed in October 2019 on behalf of three Quebec parents of underage players, judge Sylvain Lussier ruled on Wednesday.
The three parents blamed Fortnite and to Epic Games, which opened a major studio in Montreal in October 2018, “to create addiction to the game [comparable] to that which heroin or cocaine can create,” the decision reads. The symptoms of this addiction are described at length and include “migraines, back and neck pain, lack of basic hygiene, sleep disturbances as well as significant social disturbances”.
“Several players would have developed problems such that they do not eat, do not shower and do not socialize anymore”, we summarize.
7781 games in two years
The plaintiffs filed as an example the files of three minors who would have become dependent on Fortnite. The son of one of the applicants also received a diagnosis of cyberaddiction signed by the doctor on duty at the CLSC he visited. Another, who was 15 when he started playing, played 6,923 games for 59,954 minutes of play, “nearly 42 full days”. His academic performance and social life suffered and he had a panic attack in January 2019, “feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of the game”.
Another child, “JO. Z.,” played 7,781 games over two years from the age of 13 and played “a minimum of three hours a day,” sometimes until 3 a.m.
According to the parents, this addiction was deliberately created by Epic Games. In this regard, they quoted the words of one of the designers of the game, the psychologist Celia Hodent, who, in an interview with the newspaper The world in 2018, “explains the strengths of the game and its interest for players”, summarizes the judge.
“The Court could not detect in these remarks the intention to design a game that creates addiction, he decides. The designer of a video game cannot be blamed for creating an interesting, engaging and attractive product. We misunderstand the creator of the game designing it boring, slow and colorless [drab]. These allegations, believes the judge, “are a matter of opinion and argument”.
Miners and V-Bucks
Fortnite is a cooperative shooter and survival game, offered as a free download on all platforms, which allows up to 100 online players to fight in a gradually shrinking arena. It is estimated that at any time, on the planet, between 3 and 4 million players meet there. In 2021, the game earned US$5.8 billion for its developer, Epic Games.
Most of this income comes from the purchase of the currency of Fortnitecalled V-Bucks, which can be obtained with real money or by achieving certain feats in the game. These V-Bucks allow you to buy “skins” Fortniteeither cosmetic accessories for characters, vehicles and certain tools, as well as items in the virtual shop such as soundtracks or dances.
This is another aspect targeted by the class action, which accuses Fortnite encourage overspending. It mentions, for example, the 10-year-old son of one of the plaintiffs who spent more than $600 on “skins”, with prepaid PlayStation cards.
Representatives of Epic Games, for their part, argued that the parents “have not demonstrated medically or by study or scientific report” of the damage caused by Fortnite. The judge took note of the fact that the American Psychiatric Association, in the United States, believes that there is currently not “sufficient evidence to establish that video game disorder is a mental disorder in its own right”. , and that the situation requires “further research”.
But several accusations from the three parents, represented by the Montreal firm CaLex Legal, reasonably hold water, ruled the judge. He specifies from the outset that his role is not to establish the merits of the charges by weighing expert opinions, only to dismiss “frivolous” requests.
“It suffices for the plaintiff to present a case having a serious color of right, that is to say a case having a chance of success, without requiring him to establish a reasonable possibility of success. »
The fact that American psychiatrists are asking for more research or that this diagnosis has not yet been officially recognized in Quebec does not make the claims in question “frivolous” or “unfounded”. Analogously, the harmful effect of tobacco was not recognized or admitted overnight.
He concludes that “there is a serious question to be argued, supported by sufficient and specific allegations as to the existence of risks or even dangers arising from the use of Fortnite “. Its developer, Epic Games, is presumed to know the associated risks and will have to demonstrate that it can exonerate itself from this responsibility.
Epic Games will have to defend itself in particular for having developed and marketed a “dangerous and harmful” product, for having failed to disclose the risks and for having harmed minors with its personalized currency system, the V-Bucks.
The class action is authorized on behalf of all natural persons domiciled in Quebec who have developed an addiction to Fortnite since 1is September 2017. We add all minors who bought V-Bucks. The three parents and their lawyers are asking for damages, as well as punitive damages which will have to be established, and reimbursement of all purchases by underage players who have obtained V-Bucks. Epic Games has also concluded last April an agreement of 26.5 million US in North Carolina related to the purchases of this virtual currency by minors.