South Korean online game publisher NCsoft is facing a negligence lawsuit for not warning that its product Lineage II was highly addictive.
The plaintiff Craig Smallwood, a US citizen, alleges that he spent 20,000 hours playing Lineage II between 2004 and 2009. During the period of his dependence on the game, Smallwood claims that he was “unable to function independently” in everyday tasks such as personal hygiene and interpersonal communication.
Claiming that he would have never touched the game had he known of its addictive properties, Smallwood has convinced a U.S. District Judge to allow the lawsuit to go ahead, despite legal representation for the NCsoft pressing for its dismissal. This court case is reminiscent of earlier attempts to sue the publishers of apparently addictive and psychologically damaging games.
Lineage II is a fantasy themed MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game), similar in concept to the worldwide online phenomenon World of Warcraft. While it doesn’t have WoW’s legions of sunlight-fearing devotees, the game still has a faithful and steadily growing base of users in the six years since its original release.
Whether the Smallwood’s case will be successful is dependent on whether he can establish if NCsoft had a responsibility to provide information to users about safe gaming practices, in the same way that alcohol manufacturers are obliged to caution against excessive drinking, or the manufacterers of certain tools are required to provide instructions for safe use.
Currently the condition of gaming addiction is not psychologically or legally recognised, however there have been many reported instances where people obsessed by video or online games have displayed destructive or antisocial behaviours.
In 2005, a thirteen year-old Chinese World of Warcraft gamer committed suicide after allegedly becoming so immersed in the virtual world that he could not distinguish between fantasy and reality. His parents unsuccessfully sued WoW publisher Blizzard after the incident.