Are video games as addictive as alcohol, tobacco or drugs? Do they need to be legislated in the same way? That’s the question that has prompted a recent lawsuit filed in Canada’s highest court by parents from the province of Quebec. The lawsuit filed by these people ensures that their children have developed authentic symptoms of dependence on Fortnite, including behaviors such as stopping eating, sleeping and even bathing.
Although it may seem laughable, the lawsuit is serious, since a Canadian judge determined that it is not a frivolous or ill-founded legal recourse, and concluded that it is “a serious matter supported by sufficient and specific arguments for the existence of risks or dangers that arise from the use of Fortnite .” Note, from the use of Fortnite ! But there is more. The parents claim that Epic Games deliberately made Fortnite addictive, though the court disagreed. The purpose of the plaintiffs is to achieve some type of regulation or that the company takes responsibility; something similar to what happens with tobacco companies: either the game has a warning seal or the company is sanctioned… incredible… Or not?
Let’s go in parts. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment. Outside of these implications, video game addiction exists. It is real. Testimonies from all over the world confirm it: from the children who consumed Marios like candy in the 80s to people who died playing WoW in the last decade, going through small cases of video game addicts of all types and ages, from adolescents obsessed with e-sports to Candy Crush addicted granny . Again: this is real and undeniable. But the question is: can it be compared to alcohol or even worse, to tobacco, not to mention drugs? And if so: what should be the social and legal consequences?
First of all, it must be said that there are enormous differences between video games and addictive and psychoactive substances of any kind: the first is, precisely, the absence of the “substance” category in a video game. In other words, all addictive substances, from the most socially accepted ones such as alcohol to the hardest and most illegal drugs, are defined by the presence of chemical compounds that produce altered states of physiology, behavior, and consciousness; they are quantitatively measurable and qualitatively and are directly linked to the amount of intake. And video games, do they have substance? No, they don’t.
In reality, video games are playful devices, cultural events and not natural ones. They can produce addiction, but their context of operation is more complicated: they are immersed in personal, family and cultural dynamics. That is, if I force a person to drink alcohol all the time, they will inevitably become addicted out of physiological necessity, even regardless of the context, even if it is relevant to the social development of addiction. In the case of video games, addiction occurs precisely due to the existence of social factors, in the absence of an active substance. That is why the comparison, in our humble opinion, is misleading: putting an addiction stamp on FortniteIt’s even more absurd than putting triglyceride and sodium stamps on food because, at least in the case of such stamps, the substances in question exist.
The other thing is, of course, there are levels. No alcoholic drink has more warning than a mild warning against excess. Instead, tobacco has grotesque images of the results of its addiction and the rest of the drugs are more or less illegal. Although we do not want to blame the parents for everything, in this case it is relevant that the children have some problem with discipline and parental attention. For example, the cases of addiction to MMOs occurred in the same contexts, both in Western and Eastern societies. Do video games guarantee the same treatment?
In conclusion, we think not. It is good that there is this debate in society and the legal system, but due to the logic of the categories, it is absurd to classify video games in the same way as products with fully quantitatively measurable active substances. Videogames only produce addiction if concomitant qualitative factors favor it. As Epic Games has said: the game provides tools for parents to keep track of game hours, and they can request purchase restrictions. It is possible to do more, but the comparison is fallacious or misleading. In short, we are sure that the lawsuit will not pass, but beyond our position, it is important to have this debate to define definitions and responsibilities: This is the only way to have a reasonable view of the relationship between videogames and society.