Stephen S. Wu-- SL: Legal Writer,, (408) 573-5737, 50 W. San Fernando St., Ste. 750, San Jose, CA 95113

Video Game Addiction Case Closed

Whatever happened to the video game addiction case I wrote about in 2010? The case was Smallwood v. NCsoft Corporation, No. 09-00497 ACK-BMK (D. Haw.). In the suit, Smallwood said that he became psychologically dependent on and addicted to NCsoft’s Lineage II game. Last November, the Court abruptly dismissed the case following a final pretrial status and settlement conference. Although the docket doesn’t say it, the most likely interpretation of the dismissal is that the parties settled the case before trial.
When I wrote last about the case, Smallwood had filed a complaint, a first amended complaint, and a second amended complaint. The defendants had sought dismissal of the case. The Court had issued orders on these motions and had narrowed the case by dismissing some of Smallwood’s claims. Nonetheless, some claims remained viable.

The docket then shows certificates of service showing that the parties engaged in the evidence gathering pretrial phase of the suit, requesting information and providing responses to the requests. The defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment to win the case without the need for a trial. While this motion was pending, the parties engaged in a series of pretrial conferences leading up to the trial. After the last of these conferences, the following pretrial conference was taken off the calendar, and the Court issued an order dismissing the case with prejudice. The phrase “with prejudice” means that Smallwood is not permitted to refile his complaint against the defendants.

The most likely reading of the docket is that in the settlement conference, the judge presiding at the conference was able to settle the case. If that is what occurred, the parties may have agreed to a payment of some money to Smallwood in exchange for Smallwood agreeing to a dismissal of his claims with prejudice. The order of dismissal does not mention a reason for the dismissal (such as the judge granting the pending motion for summary judgment). Accordingly, the docket doesn’t provide a definitive explanation of what happened. But the timing of the events in the docket suggests a settlement.

The settlement leaves us without a precedent concerning whether a game company can produce a game so compelling in its entertaining goodness that it becomes a bad product causing psychological damage to its users. We will have to wait for another day to see a case like that reach a jury or a judge’s ruling. With the ever-increasing use of virtual worlds, video games, and social networks, I have to imagine that it’s only a matter of time before we have a verdict or judgment on a case like this one.