Gaming addict in win over video game lawyers

Man who claims he's addicted to the game Lineage II persuades a court that he can challenge end-user agreement that restricted the game maker's liability.

Once there are clinics for an addiction, it must be real.

And so it seems to be with video games. Once doctors declared that "World of Warcraft" was "the crack cocaine of gaming," everyone seemed to accept that gaming addiction was yet another human frailty.

Yet gaming companies chose to protect themselves with an end-user agreement that limited their own liability in creating something that might get others hooked.

However, Craig Smallwood, a Hawaii man who claims to be hooked on "Lineage II," has succeeded in the first round of what might be a long bout in challenging an end-user agreement.

According to the Register, Smallwood sued NC Interactive, makers of the game, claiming that its addictive qualities had made him dedicate more than 20,000 hours to it. He claims he was no given fair warning that he might suffer from its consequences--he is reportedly undergoing treatment for depression and other symptoms of distress.

Will the Sword of Justice come down upon gaming companies? CC Jordan Roher/FLickr

NC Interactive allegedly locked him out of three accounts without warning and, naturally, the company declared its end-user agreement meant that only a small amount could be paid to potential claimants. The agreement also offered the convenience that any case could only be brought in the Texas State Court in Travis County, near where NC Interactive has a U.S. office.

I am sure this is a very fine and fair court. However, a federal court in Smallwood's Hawaii decided that perhaps it might offer a little jurisdiction.

While some of Smallwood's claims were thrown out, the judge ruled that Texas and Hawaii actually have something in common: they don't have affection for contract provisions that declare in advance that a gross-negligence claim cannot be brought.

The court papers also state that "during the years that plaintiff played Lineage II, the phenomena of psychological dependence and addiction to playing computer games was recognized by and known to defendants."

Smallwood's condition appears to be severe. And it will be interesting to see if his claim is ultimately successful. Perhaps, though, gaming companies will simply have to spend more money on clever lawyers to find new ways to phrase their legal disclaimers.

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