The ‘Call of Duty’ lawsuit and video game liability – Law Society Journal

On the second anniversary of the Uvalde school shooting, 19 families have launched a lawsuit against several companies they hold accountable for the perpetrator’s behaviour.

While this is a US legal issue, the lawsuit has Australian and international repercussions since Call of Duty – like Fortnite and other violent games – is readily available and popular in this country. There is also a burgeoning video game industry with ties to this, and other, war-based games. Indeed, Melbourne’s Sledgehammer Games has been helping make Call of Duty for more than a decade with much of the audio and visual effects for the game generated by the Australian company.

On 10 May, 19 families in Uvalde, sued Meta Platforms, owner of Facebook and Instagram, and Activision Blizzard (a subsidiary of Microsoft), makers of Call of Duty, over allegations the companies bear responsibility for products used by the teenage shooter. They also filed a lawsuit against Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the AR-style rifle used by 18-year-old Salvador Ramos in the Uvalde shooting, which resulted in the killing of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.

Josh Koskoff, attorney for the families, released a statement saying, “There is a direct line between the conduct of these companies and the Uvalde shooting. This three-headed monster knowingly exposed him to the weapon, conditioned him to see it as a tool to solve his problems and trained him to use it.”

The lawsuits against Meta and Call of Duty makers are just the latest to allege technology companies play a central role in influencing mass shooters. Families of victims in a May 2022 attack on a Buffalo, New York supermarket sued social media companies including Meta and Instagram.

Amanda Mason is a senior lawyer with Media Arts Lawyers in Sydney. Her particular focus is on defamation, commercial law, disputes and litigation.

She tells LSJ, “One of the more unique breaches of this duty alleged by the plaintiffs, and very specific to this case, is that the Activision Defendants’ continue to use replicas, or near-replicas, of real life assault weapons in the Call of Duty franchise, despite actual or constructive knowledge that multiple mass shooters had been trained on Call of Duty products and committed their assaults with weapons that are the same or similar to those that appear in the Call of Duty franchise.”

“The plaintiffs argue that Call of Duty is a simulation, rather than a game, and has been linked to multiple mass shootings, including the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, asserting that the Activision Defendants ‘knew or should have known that they have contributed substantially to the creation and training of multiple mass shooters…’.”

Psychologists have argued for and against the proposition that video games cause or exacerbate aggression in players. In April 2000, two studies argued that playing violent video games can increase a person’s aggressive thoughts, feelings and behaviour both in laboratory settings and in actual life, according to research appearing in the April issue of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The studies surmised “violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive, very engrossing and require the player to identify with the aggressor”.

Source: The ‘Call of Duty’ lawsuit and video game liability – Law Society Journal

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