Major Game Developers Defend “Entertaining” Gameplay Against Addiction Lawsuits

A string of lawsuits alleging that popular games like Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto 5, and Fortnite are intentionally designed to be addictive has prompted a firm response from major game developers. Microsoft, Rockstar, Epic, and others are facing complaints that claim their games utilize “addictive psychological features” to hook players, particularly minors.

Defending Creative Expression

In a recent motion to dismiss one of the lawsuits filed by an Arkansas woman and her son, the targeted developers argued that the suit is “an attack on the First Amendment rights of videogame creators.” They assert that games are an expressive medium, as established by a 2011 Supreme Court decision, and that finding their expression “too entertaining” is an invalid reason to limit constitutionally protected speech.

The developers’ lawyers contend that the plaintiffs fail to clearly establish what specific features of each game caused harm and how. They argue that the complaint uses “ominous” terms like “feedback loop” and “monetization scheme” to target regular, creative features that make games more attractive and challenging.

Defending Creative Choices

The complaints take issue with various aspects of popular games, including “predatory monetization” and deceptive UI tactics known as “dark patterns.” However, many of the criticisms target what the developers argue are standard or positive gaming features.

Call of Duty, for instance, is criticized for rewarding players with unlockable guns and attachments, which the suit calls “a form of operant conditioning,” as well as for featuring “fast-paced play, satisfying graphics, sounds, and other dopamine lifts.” Similarly, the suit warns that players with ADHD “can become easily hyper focused and addicted to building worlds” in Minecraft, and claims that Grand Theft Auto 5 “includes endless arrays of activities and challenges to continually engage users and ensure they are never bored.”

The game developers contend that these features are integral to the creative vision and enjoyment of their games, arguing, “That Plaintiffs find the expression in games ‘too persuasive’ and ‘catchy’—ie, too entertaining—’does not permit [them] to quiet the speech or to burden its messengers.'”

A Ongoing Debate

While the World Health Organization recognizes videogame addiction as a disorder, the debate surrounding the addictive nature of games and their potential impact on mental health, particularly for minors, continues. The game developers have motioned for the Arkansas lawsuit, as well as five others filed by the same Atlanta law firm, to be dismissed or sent to arbitration.

As the legal battle unfolds, the gaming industry finds itself at a crossroads, navigating the delicate balance between creative expression and responsible game design. The outcome of these lawsuits may have far-reaching implications for the future of gaming, shaping the way developers approach engaging gameplay mechanics and potentially setting precedents for regulating the industry.