Friday, August 20, 2010

Gaming Addiction? Nope. Just Self-Indulgent

According to an article on, a man in Hawaii named Craig Smallwood is suing popular South Korean game producer NCSoft because, he claims, they have made their MMO Lineage II too addictive. Smallwood claims that, between 2004 and 2009, he racked up 20000 hours of game time and is now “unable to function independently in usual daily activities such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing or communicating with family and friends.” A federal judge is allowing the case to go forward, though it does appear that this may be on a technicality in federal law that doesn't allow the case to be dismissed at this point.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new winner for the Stupid Lawsuits award!
Dear Mr. Smallwood, there are no chemicals or subliminal brainwashing in Lineage II that would cause you to be addicted. What you are calling "addicting", most people would simply call "entertaining". It seems to me that most people who play these games want them to be more entertaining and so suing a game designer for providing exactly what their customer base wants does not even come close to making sense.
Is it possible to be addicted to video games? Sure it is. I am an avid gamer myself and I am certain that there have been times when my wife has questioned my addiction levels. That is not, however, the game maker's fault or responsibility. They are providing a product we have paid them to provide and, if the game is "addicting", that just means they are doing a good job.
I have to say, I have never played Lineage II. I never played Lineage either. If it is that entertaining, maybe I am missing out. I have played other NCSoft games and they generally do good work. It would be a shame if they had to make their games less entertaining just because of certain idiots in their player base.
I have seen some people commenting that maybe these game designers should have some sort of counselling position on staff, someone who would pop in and "chat" with players who are spending "too much time" playing these games. Why? That is not the game designer's responsibility! Most of these games already do pop up in-game messages that say something on the order of, "You have been playing for an extended amount of time. Please take a break." Personally, I find even those messages to be annoying and intrusive. If some game designer decided to add some sort of teeth to the "take a break advice", I would simply take my game money elsewhere. I have no doubt that I am not alone in this regard. I am paying you. Shut up and provide the service and product I am buying.
There is a dark underbelly to this story. According to papers filed by NCSoft in their defense, Smallwood was engaged in real money transfers. Not being specifically familiar with Lineage II, I have to generalize this from my knowledge of other MMOs, but basically it means that he was either buying or selling game currency with real money, a practice that is expressly forbidden in the Terms of Service. It is so forbidden, in fact, that all of Smallwood's game accounts were terminated and banned in 2009. It is rather amusing that Smallwood did not realize that he was "addicted" until after he was banned, isn't it? There couldn't be an ulterior motive to this lawsuit, could there?
Open and ready access to the courts for redress of grievances is an American principle that certainly needs to be maintained. However, we need - just as much - to develop a system that will prevent trash lawsuits like this from clogging up our courts. This kind of lawsuit is largely to blame for the expense, inefficiency, and just plain frustration of our judicial system. Not to mention the fact that, if it does go to trial, NCSoft has to waste time and money on a defense when the defense should be as simple as "He's an idiot - case closed." There are a number of steps between here and a full-fledged trial, though. Hopefully a judge at one of those steps will toss this case into the trash heap where it belongs.

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