In 2019, Canadian law firm Calex Legal sought approval to file a class action lawsuit against Epic Games (opens in new tab) on behalf of parents who claimed that their children were addicted to Fortnite. As reported by CTV News (opens in new tab), a Quebec judge has now authorized that class action, meaning the lawsuit can proceed.
Games are often described as "addictive" but in the case of this lawsuit, the term is being used literally. Calex Legal, the law firm representing the parents, said in its filing (opens in new tab) that addiction to Fortnite "is similar to cocaine addiction," and also cited a 2018 story in which a British behavioral specialist said Fortnite "is like heroin."
The suit claims Epic Games made use of "experts" during the development of Fortnite to ensure that it would be maximally addictive to players, and does not inform people of the "risks and dangers associated with the use of Fortnite" when they're creating their player profiles. It also accuses Epic of keeping kids hooked once they're in through the promise of prizes and prestige, "including the Fortnite World Cup, which offers more than $30 million in prize money."
One player cited in the lawsuit, who was 13 when the action was filed, had allegedly gone from playing "a few hours a week to several hours a day" in the course of just two years, and often plays until 1 am; another, who is only 10, argues with his parents about playing Fortnite, and becomes "very aggressive and vulgar" while playing. The 10-year-old has also spent almost $600 in Fortnite V-bucks, although it's not clear whether this was done with or without parental knowledge.
Naturally, the lawsuit also cites the World Health Organization's recent recognition of "videogame disorder (opens in new tab)" as a disease to support its claims, along with various media-focused reports such as "More evidence that Fortnite is bad for your child's health (opens in new tab)."
"The effects of videogame addiction, including Fortnite, on the brains of children is particularly damaging in that when they are continually attached to their machines, they develop severe deficiencies in their ability to integrate the full spectrum [of human] emotions," the lawsuit states. "Specialists report gaps in vocabulary as well as gaps in social integration. Indeed, it is recognized that the continued use of electronic devices causes significant changes to the prefrontal cortex of the human brain, changes that particularly affect young developing brains.
"The addictive aspect of Fortnite is recognized worldwide, and has also been compared to heroin in an article entitled 'Fortnite addiction is forcing kids into videogame rehab' (opens in new tab) ... as well as in an article entitled 'Behind the numbers: Fortnite may be as addictive as heroin' (opens in new tab)."
The approval of the class action is only the beginning of the process, but it's a big step forward, as the judge declared that the parents involved "have a defensible case to make."
"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 videogames, and more particularly to Fortnite, that the plaintiffs have a valid product liability claim against the defendants," the ruling states. "The claim does not appear to be frivolous or manifestly ill-founded."
Epic, of course, sees the matter very differently. "We have industry-leading Parental Controls that empower parents to supervise their child’s digital experience," Epic spokesperson Natalie Munoz said in a statement sent to PC Gamer. "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."
Calex Legal is now seeking more people (opens in new tab) to join its class action lawsuit against Fortnite.