When a video-game player in Russia began playing "Fallout 4," he stopped eating, sleeping, spending time with his wife, and even going to work. He has now lost his marriage, job, and health, and he blames the video-game maker Bethesda Softworks.
"If I knew that this game could have become so addictive, I would have become a lot more wary of it," the man wrote in a statement, as reported by RT. "I would not have bought it, or I would have left it until I was on holiday or until the New Year holidays."
He wants monetary damages of 500,000 roubles, or $7,000, and a warning label on the game so future players will know what they are getting into.
His request may sound bizarre – even his lawyers say they plan to "see how far we can go regarding this case" – but it also echoes of a culture growing increasingly fond of warning labels.
The lawsuit originates in Russia, but Bethesda Softworks is an American company and the outcome could potentially have some ripple effects in the United States.
Once widely viewed as patronizing interference with commerce, warning labels have become relatively commonplace in US stores. Plastic bags are printed with cautionary warnings that they could be dangerous for infants and young children; coffee cups bear caveats that the contents may be hot; many printer toner cartridges bear instructions not to eat the contents. Many seemingly common sense warnings advising consumers not to use products in ways other than those for which they were intended stem from lawsuits, either realized or potential.
In this instance however, the adverse outcome of becoming addicted to a game, may be in the eye of the beholder. Some gamers would argue that the addictive nature of a game is actually a symbol of how good it is.
If Bethesda loses this suit could it possibly having a chilling effect on excellence in other industries? Oreos, for example, have been characterized as addictive in some preliminary studies, but they are sold alongside peanuts and cheese crackers in the snack aisle without any nod to their addictive qualities on the packaging. That study went viral on social media when it came out in 2013, but it likely didn't have much effect on Oreos sales.
The use of warning labels has been a point of contention in American culture for decades. Smokers and the tobacco industry objected to the addition of labels detailing harmful health effects on packs of cigarettes, but the US surgeon general claims that those labels have saved 8 million lives.
And in recent months, warnings have become a hot-button issue on college campuses where some students and faculty have advocated for warning labels about violent, sexual, or other potentially offensive content on classic literature and lecture presentations.
One continuing debate concerns trigger warnings, a label in a class syllabus alerting college students that the reading to follow may include references to disturbing events or ideas. The idea is still being debated in media and college circles around the nation, Husna Haq wrote for The Christian Science Monitor:
Is it akin to censorship and another example of “political correctness” taken to the extreme, as some have argued? Or is it a benign courtesy offered to students who have suffered from trauma in order to prepare them for challenging themes? . . . .
The way we see it, students can have their books and read them, too. That's because literature, by its very nature, is designed to challenge, expose, provoke, offend – and, in fact, heal. In the same way that those suffering phobias conquer their fears only through confronting them, those suffering trauma may find healing through the very literature they find disturbing.