Epic Games to be sued for not warning parents Fortnite is allegedly as 'addictive as cocaine'

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Roughly a quarter of a billion mostly obsessed gamers are battling it out in Fortnite, and there is a decent chance kids you know are among them.

But a law firm hopes to prove that Fortnite publisher Epic Games should pay the price for the third-person shooter game they allege is as addictive, and potentially harmful, as cocaine.

The Montreal-based firm, Calex Legal, launched a proposed class action in Canada on behalf of two parents who are identified only by their initials, FN and JZ. They are the parents of a ten and 15-year-old, respectively.

The legal action alleges that when a person is engaged in Fortnite for a long period, the player's brain releases the "pleasure hormone, dopamine" and that Fortnite was developed by psychologists, statisticians and others over four years "to develop the most addictive game possible," all so Epic could reap lucrative profits.

An Epic spokesperson said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Though Fortnite is free to play, kids spend real money purchasing the in-game currency, V-Bucks, used for dances (which are called "emotes"), skins and custom outfits for their virtual alter-egos.

"The defendants used the same tactics as the creators of slot machines, or variable reward programs, (to ensure) the dependence of its users, (and) the brain being manipulated to always want more," the suit alleges in a rough translation. "Children are particularly vulnerable to this manipulation since their self-control system in the brain is not developed enough."

Epic has 30 days to respond to the legal action. The case could take up to a year or so.

Alessandra Esposito Chartrand, an attorney with Calex Legal, told the CBC in Canada that the suit is based on the same legal basis as a Quebec Superior Court ruling in 2015 that determined that tobacco companies didn't warn the public about the dangers of smoking. Chartrand said it was Epic's duty to issues similar warnings around the addictive nature of Fortnite.

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Last year, the World Health Organisation classified "gaming disorder" as a diagnosable condition, giving mental health professionals a basis for setting up treatment and identifying risks for addictive behaviour.

In a Common Sense/Survey Monkey poll released last December, about one in five parents found it at least moderately difficult to get kids off Fortnite, and about a quarter said they were concerned about how much time their kid played.

The Canadian suit isn't the first time Epic Games has faced a potential class action. In June, a federal case was brought in the northern district of California that alleged in part that Fortnite lacks built-in "parental controls that would allow parents or guardians of minors to make informed decisions regarding in-app purchases" and that minors who change their mind after making a purchase, even minutes after doing so, are not allowed a refund.

This is an edited version of a story which appeared on USA Today