While video gamers can go on outlandish binges of play — take the fatal, 50-hour ordeal undertaken on Aug. 5, 2005 by Seung Seop Lee — can someone pursue legal action, asserting harm from another’s video-game addiction, more particularly claiming bystander emotional distress? Gregory Cherms, who represented himself in a state Superior court in Sacramento, sued Sony Online Entertainment, Warner Brothers, and Electronic Arts, asserting they were responsible for his adult son being hooked on video games and seeking that the makers be required to provide warnings that the games can be addictive. Cherms said he endured emotional distress as a “bystander.”
Sorry, no case here, the court said, granting a SLAPP motion to dismiss the suit swiftly to protect the game makers’ First Amendment right to pursue constitutionally protected expression. The court also said that for Cherms to have a valid claim for bystander emotional distress, he had to be physically present at the scene of the injury-producing event when it occurs and he had to be contemporaneously aware it was causing harm. While the court noted that Cherms failed to produce admissible evidence in this instance that could support a judgment in his favor (besides a dubious article he submitted after finding it on the Internet), the judge surprisingly did not expressly bar future claims, leaving the possibility this case might come back in the future. Would a lawyer have gotten Cherms further? Could his assertion of video game addiction be considered similar to torts involving cigarettes and addiction, and, if so, might Cherms find others interested in pursuing a class action?