In the suit, he blames NCSoft, the publisher of his favorite game, Lineage II, for not warning him about the game's "addictive" nature.
According to the suit, Smallwood spent an estimated 20,000 hours on the role-playing game, and claims that he was "unable to function independently in usual daily activities, such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing or communicating with family and friends." A judge deemed the lawsuit worthy of its day in court.
The idea of video game addiction is nothing new, though it has experienced its fair share of controversy. For years, game addiction or overuse has been over-diagnosed and on the rise, according to reports. These so-called addicts have been shown to share traits of autism. Various clinics have opened, and in some cases shock treatment and drugs have been used as treatment.
At the root of the lawsuit lies the question of whether one can really be addicted to video games in the same way that one could become addicted to alcohol. In 2007, the American Medical Association rejected a proposal to classify the overuse of video games, which affects close to 10% of players, as an addiction.
Speaking on the issue of addiction, Rich Taylor, senior vice president of communications and industry affairs at the Entertainment Software Association, a video game industry group, outlined the association's stance on video game addiction:
"The Entertainment Software Association supports the medical and scientific conclusions of mental health experts who already considered this issue," he wrote to WalletPop in an email. "We believe that games, much like other forms of entertainment, should be enjoyed as part of a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle."
This sentiment was also shared by the Entertainment Consumers Association, a nonprofit that represents consumers of interactive entertainment in the U.S. and Canada. ECA president and founder Hal Halpin reacted to news of the lawsuit in an email to WalletPop:
"The term 'Game Addiction' is nothing more than baseless media hype used to goose ratings and garner funding for researchers who clearly have a bias for the medium," Halpin wrote. "That we may see a civil case using it as grounds for a suit is saddening -- not simply because our court system is already over-taxed, but because there's as much blame for NCSoft creating a compelling game as there would be for Paramount in creating a compelling film and TV franchise with Star Trek."
Even though video game addiction is not a recognized psychological disorder, there are treatment centers that specialize in helping those gamers who can't help themselves. ReSTART, an Internet addiction recovery program, also deals with the "excessive use" of video game use. The organization operates a 45-day, $14,500, treatment for individuals who are " ... having problems controlling use of electronic media and have not been successful at change on their own."
On the industry side, more games are urging gamers to take breaks when playing. One example can be found while playing certain games on the Nintendo Wii, which after a period of use will ask the user, "Why don't you take a break?"
The lawsuit in part alleges that the lack of a warning about the addictive nature of video games contributed to Smallwood's problem, and calls for a stronger way to warn consumers. Might we be seeing a cigarette-like warning label on video games anytime in the future? Probably not, says Halpin, "because you don't see anything remotely similar for movies or TV shows."
According to Wired.com, the attorney for South Korean-based NCSoft again asked the judge to dismiss the case in a filing last week.