Montreal

Addicted to Fortnite? Montreal law firm says video game company should pay up

A legal notice, filed in Montreal on behalf of the parents of two minors, likens the effect of the game to cocaine, saying it releases the chemical dopamine to the brain of vulnerable young people.

Calex Légal says it is representing 2 minors who are addicted to the game

Fortnite is an online multi-player game that attracts players from around the world. (Martha Irvine/The Associated Press)

A Montreal legal firm has requested authorization to launch a class-action lawsuit against the widely popular video game Fortnite.

The legal notice, filed on behalf of the parents of two minors, aged 10 and 15, likens the effect of the game to cocaine, saying it releases the chemical dopamine to the brain of vulnerable young people who can become dependent on playing.

"We dug into it and we realized there was a strong case for it," said Alessandra Esposito Chartrand, an attorney with Calex Légal.  

Chartrand said her firm was contacted by parents interested in suing the company for producing such an addictive game. She is asking others concerned about their child's dependence on the game to come forward.

The authorization request was filed in Montreal court Thursday against U.S.-based Epic Games Inc. and its Canadian subsidiary.

Much of the suit is based on a 2015 Quebec Superior Court ruling that determined tobacco companies didn't warn their customers about the dangers of smoking.

"It's basically the same legal basis," Chartrand said. "It's very centred on the duty to inform."

That multi-billion-dollar tobacco lawsuit is still playing out in court as the three implicated companies look to secure creditor protection.

Tobacco empires have been built over centuries, but Fortnite is proving to be a modern-day cash crop of its own. Epic Games is now worth billions of dollars, largely because of the game's success.

Game made to be 'as addictive as possible,' lawyer alleges

That success was built from extensive research and development that was aimed at creating an addictive game, Chartrand said.

"Epic Games, when they created Fortnite, for years and years, hired psychologists — they really dug into the human brain and they really made the effort to make it as addictive as possible," she said.

"They knowingly put on the market a very, very addictive game which was also geared toward youth."

Alessandra Esposito Chartrand, an attorney with Calex Légal, says Fortnite Battle Royale was designed to be addictive. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

When something is that dangerously addictive, it's a company's responsibility to warn users of the risk, she said. 

"In our case, the two parents that came forward and told, 'If we knew it was so addictive it would ruin our child's life, we would never have let them start playing Fortnite or we would have monitored it a lot more closely,'" she said, noting there are treatment centres around the world and in even in Quebec that are helping users quit Fortnite.

The 38-page request of authorization highlights the research behind video game addiction and makes note of the World Health Organization's 2018 decision to classify video game addiction as a disease.

Chartrand was unable to say how much money her firm would seek or when a judge will rule on the class-action request.

Fornite is a free-to-download game that earns much of its revenue through in-game purchases. Players can upgrade their characters by purchasing outfits, accessories and access to certain levels.

Class-action waiver included in terms of service

Epic Games did not immediately reply to a request for comment early Friday. The company's terms of service includes a class-action waiver provision.

To play the game, users must give up the right to go to court individually or as part of a class-action. Instead, disputes must be resolved in individual arbitration, the terms say.

But Chartrand said such terms of service don't stand up in court in Quebec because the province's Consumer Protection Act requires companies to clearly disclose risks associated with products or services.

Epic Games is also facing legal action in California and she expects more cases will be launched elsewhere.

The most recent version of the game, Fortnite Battle Royale, has more than 125 million players worldwide.

About the Author

Isaac Olson is a journalist with CBC Montreal. He has been covering the Montreal area for more than a decade, with a strong focus on community news, municipal politics and human-interest stories.

With files from Lauren McCallum

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