Quebec judge authorizes class-action lawsuit over 'addictive' Fortnite game
A Quebec judge has authorized a class-action lawsuit against the maker of the popular online video game, Fortnite, after parents of three children who played it argued it was too "addictive."
When the original application was filed in 2019 against Epic Games Inc. and its Canadian subsidiary, the lawyers representing the plaintiffs said they believed this case was a first in Quebec.
Quebec Superior Court Justice Sylvain Lussier authorized the class-action suit on Wednesday.
Three parents from Quebec sued Epic Games, which is based in the U.S., alleging that the game's creators deliberately designed the Battle Royale iteration of Fortnite to be "highly addictive" and that Fortnite caused their minor children to suffer psychological, physical, and financial harm. They are all seeking damages from the company that will be determined at a later date.
The video game manufacturer could be liable, according to the judge, who referred to safety defect provisions of Quebec's Civil Code to support his finding.
None of the allegations in the class-action lawsuit have been proven in court.
Since its release in September 2017, the Fortnite game has risen in popularity, particularly during the pandemic. In 2020, the company said it had amassed more than 350 million players worldwide and during April of that year, players spent more than 3.2 billion hours playing the game.
Fortnite has also attracted celebrities to its virtual world in recent years, including electronic music producers Diplo and deadmau5.
KIDS ALLEGEDLY SPENT HUNDREDS ON GAME, DISASSOCIATED FROM FAMILY
The battle royale style of game sees 100 players battle it out on an island until the last one is standing. It is free to play, but users can purchase in-game currency, called "V-Bucks," using real-world money.
To fuel their addiction, the kids mentioned in the class-action suit spent hundreds of dollars — sometimes without their parents' knowledge — on characters and dances in the game, according to the judgment on the request for authorization to bring the class-action suit against Epic Games.
One of the kids, identified as JO.Z in the document, had played more than 7,781 hours of the game in less than two years, sometimes playing until 3 a.m., the lawsuit claimed.
Another child allegedly played the game for a cumulative 59,954 minutes, the equivalent of 42 full days of playing.
The Quebec judge concluded that there is "no certainty" to the parents' allegations of a deliberately addictive game, but wrote that it "does not preclude the possibility that the game is in fact addictive and that its creator and distributor are presumed to know this," the judge wrote in the 24-page ruling.
The three children developed severe addictions to the popular game, spending almost all of their free time in the virtual world and in some cases not eating, showering, or socializing, the lawsuit alleged.
They became withdrawn from their families and one of them had panic attacks "due to the pressure of the game," according to the lawsuit.
Epic Games can appeal the judgement within 30 days. If the company decides not to, it will have to defend itself from the allegations once the case goes to the trial stage.
LAWSUIT WAS NOT 'FRIVOLOUS': JUDGE
The court filing from the Montreal legal firm representing the parents, Calex, cited in its original application a report by addiction specialist Anita Ghadia-Smith that likened the addictive qualities of playing Fortnite to cocaine addiction.
"The Court is of the opinion that the facts alleged with respect to the plaintiffs' children make it possible to claim, if we put them in relation to the statements of certain experts with respect to the creation of an addiction to video games, and more particularly to Fortnite, that the plaintiffs have a valid product liability claim against the defendants," the judge wrote in his ruling issued on Wednesday.
"The claim does not appear to be frivolous or manifestly ill-founded."
Despite the objections from the defendants, Justice Lussier said the parents "have a defensible case to make" that is in the public interest.
One of the parents who sued Epic Games filed with the court a report from a doctor that said her son has been diagnosed with a "cyberaddiction" during a visit on Oct. 25, 2019. The company argued the report was not a formal diagnosis, nor was there "any expert report on causation."
The video game maker also tried to toss out the court action by arguing that there is no clear definition of a video game disorder — an opinion supported by the American Psychiatric Association, which said the subject needs further research. However, the judge noted that the World Health Organization classified video game addiction as a disease in 2018.
The lack of a clearly defined condition for the disorder in Quebec does not render the parents' claims "frivolous" or "baseless," the judge wrote.
"As an analogy, the harmful effect of tobacco was not recognized or admitted overnight."
On Wednesday, the judge modified the criteria for people who qualify for potential damages as those living in Quebec since Sept. 1, 2017, who played Battle Royale and developed "a dependence, or a loss of control over or prioritization of the game, which has had a detrimental effect" on a number of activities, including family activities, educational activities, social activities, among others.
The plaintiffs are also seeking "restitution" from the defendants for all purchases of V-Bucks made by Quebecers under the age of 18 who played the game.
When reached by CTV News on Thursday, Epic Games declined to comment on the class-action lawsuit.
PARENTS TURN TO FORTNITE REHAB
Alessandra Esposito Chartrand, one of the lawyers for the parents, pushed back against the notion that the children's addictions to the game can be boiled down to a lack of parental monitoring.
"It is a much, much deeper issue than people will ever really realize. So basically, these games were created with algorithms and dark patterns that are made to addict you. And once the pattern starts, it's very, very, very hard to get out of it," she said in an interview.
The Montreal lawyer pointed to the fact that Epic Games worked with psychologist Celia Hodent to develop the popular game. However, the judge explained in his ruling that he wasn't convinced by what Hodent said in a 2018 interview with Le Monde that she intended to design a dependent game.
According to Esposito Chartrand, Fortnite was nevertheless "the perfectly designed game" that makes it seem impossible to turn off for some younger players.
"There's something about Fortnite that is completely unique. There are no other games that have therapy centres dedicated to players of that game."
As the popularity of the game surged in recent years, some parents have turned to rehab clinics for their children to seek therapy for their gaming addiction.
It's a problem that McGill University psychologist Jeff Derevensky hears about often.
Derevensky, who is the director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviours in Montreal, said he regularly gets calls from parents seeking to curb their kids' gaming addictions.
"I get two to three calls a week from parents saying my kid's gaming too much. He's not focused on his schoolwork, he won't interact with the family, he doesn't want to see his friends anymore," he told CTV News.
In extreme cases, he said parents have locked up the child's devices with a key to prevent them from playing Fortnite.
"When the gaming stops they often go into a state of depression," he said.
"We know that they are very conflicted about most individuals when you say do you want to stop. They don't want to stop."
Editor's note: After initially declining to comment on this story, Epic Games spokesperson Nathalie Munoz sent the following statement to CTV News on Friday:
"We have industry-leading Parental Controls that empower parents to supervise their child’s digital experience. Parents can receive playtime reports that track the amount of time their child plays each week, and require parental permission before purchases are made, so that they can make the decisions that are right for their family. We have also recently added a daily spending limit by default for players under the age of 13.
We plan to fight this in court. This recent decision only allows the case to proceed. We believe the evidence will show that this case is meritless."