Virtual Gaming, Actual Damage: Video Game Design That Intentionally and Successfully Addicts Users Constitutes Civil Battery

By: Allison Caffarone

In recent years, there has been increased academic interest in both the neurological effects of compulsive gaming and the potential tort liability of game developers who scientifically engineer games in order to addict users. Scholars from various disciplines are currently debating the scope and potential solutions to the problems associated with Gaming Disorder, now a globally recognized illness. This article contributes to this discussion by offering a multidisciplinary analysis of the scope of video game addiction, its neurological bases, and its relation to the legal rights and responsibilities of victims and game developers. In addition, this article explores the practical significance of, as well as normative and moral foundations for, holding video game developers accountable. It argues the novel theory that video game developers who succeed in their expressed intention to rewrite the neural pathways of gamers should be held liable for the intentional tort of battery.

It further contends that private redress based on an intentional battery cause of action is preferable to actions grounded in negligence or failure to warn because in a battery suit, there is no need to prove that the plaintiff was harmed—offensive contact suffices. Moreover, battery claims may be preferable as a matter of public policy. Game developers will be more inclined to reconsider their actions if they are unable to pass off costs of improprieties to their insurers. Such deterrence is particularly desirable where defendants are committing intentional wrongs for financial gain.

Game developers will not stop preying on the weaknesses of their users without financial motivation. Recognizing their behavior as tortious is necessary both to motivate them to behave as upstanding corporate citizens and to allow the victims their day in court. To the extent that such suits do not halt game developers’ manipulative behavior, they have the potential to lead to the use of warning labels and the adoption of educational initiatives to inform gamers (and to the extent they are minors, their parents or legal guardians) of the risks associated with these predatory games.

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Cite: 23 Duke L. & Tech. Rev. 55

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