Are video game addiction lawsuits having a moment?

Lawyers and parents are taking on the video game industry. There are more than a dozen lawsuits currently active in North America that seek to address video game addiction. All have been filed within the past two years, and most argue that the targeted video game companies, including Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, Microsoft, Roblox, Nintendo, Take-Two Interactive Software, and Sony Interactive Entertainment, make their games purposefully addictive as a way to keep people playing, and, ultimately, to get them to spend lots of money.

“These video games are intentionally designed with the help of Ph.D. behavioral psychologists and neuroscientists to keep minors and young adults playing longer and spending hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on the games,” a representative from Bullock Ward Mason, an Atlanta-based law firm involved in 11 suits, wrote on its website. “Defendants use game tactics such as reward systems, along with patented designs containing addictive features and technology to ensure its users keep playing longer and spending more. Most parents don’t understand what’s going on in their own homes as their children are manipulated and targeted by these multi-billion-dollar corporations.”

There are at least three lawsuits in Arkansas, two in Illinois, and one each in Missouri, Florida, and Washington. The majority were filed by parents concerned about their children’s purported video game addictions, and how they’ve resulted in failure in school and elsewhere. One lawsuit states that a 13-year-old’s video game addiction has caused physical pain, obesity, and “rage,” for example, and there’s a 21-year-old who said he dropped out of high school because of video games.

Then there’s the Missouri lawsuit, which was filed by a 24-year-old woman named Harper Glasscock, who said she is addicted to video games and that they’ve caused her “brain damage, cognitive impairment, lost job opportunities and unemployment, depression, anxiety, withdrawal symptoms,” among other things. The games she’s addicted to, according to her lawyers, are largely published by Activision Blizzard: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch. The lawsuit, as with others, calls video game practices like microtransactions, reward systems, and loot boxes predatory, but also accuses video game companies of having specialized departments dedicated to building relationships with “whales” — or people who spend a lot of money in video games — to ensure they keep playing. Glasscock’s lawyers also call on neurological studies to back up their addiction claims.

Activision Blizzard and the other involved companies are looking to dismiss these lawsuits. Microsoft and Epic Games, among others, are compelling the courts to dismiss due to players agreeing to arbitration rules, which forbid players from taking issues to court, instead opting for arbitration hearings. Both companies have pulled up player accounts in court documents confirming they’ve clicked “accept” on the terms of service several times. The other arguments include free speech — that video game content like loot boxes falls under First Amendment protections — and a dismissal of claims regarding product liability, because games, lawyers say, aren’t products.

A llama that looks like a pinata in Fortnite Image: Epic Games

They’ve also found some discrepancies in the filings; in parent Casey Dunn’s case in Arkansas, Microsoft found that the player uses an Xbox One, not the stated Xbox Series X. With one case in Illinois, Epic Games found only one account associated with the child that had played just two games of Fortnite, created just days before the lawsuit was filed, as first reported by reporter Stephen Totilo. (That plaintiff later told Epic Games that the child may have played on his estranged father’s or friends’ accounts.)

Several plaintiffs are looking to consolidate the lawsuits into one big, multidistrict case, with a hearing to decide if that’ll happen scheduled for May 30 in Salt Lake City. Polygon has reached out to Bullock Ward Mason, Activision Blizzard, Take-Two, Roblox, and Epic Games for comment. We’ll update this story when they respond.

Attorney Stephen McArthur of The McArthur Law Firm told Polygon that consolidating the lawsuits will make things logistically simple. “The plaintiffs’ lawyers are suing dozens of video game companies over many different states, and consolidating all cases into one court and one judge will make it far easier for them, with limited resources, to prosecute their cause of action against so many defendants at the same time,” McArthur said.

“The cases we have filed are all based on the same core set of facts that demonstrate Defendants’ intentional, profit-motivated design of their video games to create addicts out of young people,” Tina Bullock of Bullock Ward Mason told Polygon. “As this litigation continues to grow with more cases filed across the country nearly every day, consolidation would help ensure efficiency in resolving common fact issues, prevent duplicative discovery, and avoid inconsistent rulings across various courts.”

The video game companies oppose the consolidation of these cases for several reasons, including there not being enough cases to justify it. The companies also argue that the cases aren’t as broad as simply covering “video game addiction,” and that the courts must consider the personal details of each case individually, including the varying diagnoses, games, and types of companies involved. With a potential consolidation, the plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial — something that McArthur said he doesn’t expect the plaintiffs will win.

“Defendant video game companies can and will take these lawsuits extremely seriously and put up a strong defense,” McArthur said. “I do not believe the plaintiffs will win at trial. My suspicion is that they are attempting to leverage a large settlement instead based on cost of defense.”

A legal precedent for video game addiction cases hasn’t been set, and most prior cases against studios or publishers regarding games causing violence or addiction have been dismissed. One case, in which a man sued NCSoft Corp. over a purported addiction to Lineage 2 in 2009, beat the argument about the user agreement when a judge denied the company’s motion to dismiss in part (the man couldn’t sue over fraud, but could over negligence). It was a big win at the time, when lawsuits like this rarely got past the signed user agreement arguments. However, the lawsuit was settled and dismissed in 2011, never making it to a jury trial. Social media companies have faced similar addiction and personal injury lawsuits, one of which took the multidistrict litigation route. That case is ongoing, with no timeline for a trial.

Clearly, this is not an issue that’s going away. There are more addiction lawsuits than ever, and Bullock Ward Mason is soliciting more on its website. Whether they’ve got merit — or whether plaintiffs will even be allowed to sue — is yet to be seen.

Update: This story has been updated to include additional information from Bullock Ward Mason.