Video Game Caused Psychological Dependence, Suit Claims

Hawaii resident sues game developer for addiction

By Jon Hood

The past few decades have seen a number of high-profile lawsuits that seem to completely ignore the notion of personal responsibility: suits against cigarette companies by lifelong smokers who develop predictable diseases; actions against fast-food companies by consumers who live an unhealthy lifestyle and suffer the resulting health consequences; even a suit by a McDonald's customer who had a cup of coffee dropped in her lap while sitting in the drive-through lane. Her complaint? The coffee was too hot.

But a suit underway in Hawaii may end up setting a new gold standard for the frivolous lawsuit. Plaintiff Donald Smallwood says that he became "psychologically dependent and addicted" to the video game Lineage II, published by defendant NCSoft. Playing Lineage gave Smallwood "great feelings of euphoria and satisfaction," according to the complaint.

Smallwood, apparently an avid gamer, says that he played Lineage for over 20,000 hours between 2004 and 2009, according to That averages out to over 64 hours a week -- or nine hours a day.

Smallwood says that NCSoft "never gave [him] any notice or warning of the danger of psychological dependence or addiction from continued play," and that he would never have begun playing Lineage had he known the effect it would have on him.

Judge allows suit to proceed

The suit will proceed, pursuant to a ruling from U.S. District Judge Alan Kay denying NCSoft's motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Lineage II, launched in 2003, is a massive multiplayer online game, meaning that thousands or millions of gamers play simultaneously and interact with one another. Smallwood was locked out of the game in September 2009, which NCSoft said was due to "an elaborate scheme to create real money transfers." Smallwood contends that the lockout was designed to spark his interest in Aion, a newer NCSoft game, thereby generating "a larger amount of users/licensees, and increased profits" for the company.

According to the complaint, Smallwood continues to suffer from "extreme and serious emotional distress and depression, he has been unable to function independently, he has suffered psychological trauma, he was hospitalized, and he requires treatment and therapy three times a week."

While Judge Kay dismissed several of Smallwood's claims -- including fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and unfair and deceptive trade practices -- he allowed him to proceed on claims of negligence, gross negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

In his ruling, Judge Kay noted that Smallwood was proceeding pro se -- that is, without an attorney -- and that his pleadings were therefore to be "read more liberally than pleadings drafted by counsel."

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