NEW YORK (CNN/Money ) - "Psst," the shadowy figure whispered to me. "Hey buddy. Want some MMOG?"
"MMOG?" I said. "What's that?"
"Massively multiplayer online game. It's the latest thing. It'll give you a buzz. It'll make you popular. And it'll let you enter worlds you couldn't otherwise imagine. Go ahead... all your friends are doing it."
"Well, if all my friends are doing it... What's it cost?"
"$50 for your first hit, then it's $10-$15 per month, depending on what kind of MMOG you go for. I've got all sorts of varieties."
"Yikes! I can just go to the corner bar and grab a single player game for $50 or less and never have to pay again."
"Yeah, but the buzz you get from going on adventures with your buddies is totally worth the extra money. Seriously, buddy, you've got to try this. Once you do, you'll never want to quit."
"Wait a minute, so you're saying I'll get addicted? That sure doesn't sound like a good thing."
"Oh, don't worry... In the gaming world, addicted means something different than in the real world. You see, here it's something to strive for. Heck, everybody's trying to paint their games as addictive. Some companies even use the word in their marketing and advertising."
"Ever tried explaining that to a non-gamer? It sounds ridiculous. It would sure seem that if you market something as addictive, it's only a matter of time before you've got a public relations and legal disaster on your hands."
"Nah, that'll never happen; All of those litigious folks who dislike video games have been distracted by issues like violence in 'Grand Theft Auto'. MMOG's are in the clear. Trust me."
"But what about the Milwaukee man who committed suicide after extensively playing 'EverQuest'?"
"Ok, granted, that was a close one. His mother blamed the game and hired Jack Thompson, the attorney who has tried repeatedly to tie game violence to real world violence through the courts, to consider a lawsuit. But nothing materialized."
"And the Arkansas case? A three-year old child died in a parked car while her mother allegedly played a MMOG inside a house. That mother's now claiming that her 'addiction' to the game constituted a mental disease or defect – and that's the cornerstone of her defense."
"That's tragic, sad and serious about the child ... but what does this woman's defense have to do with me?"
"Well, if the courts allow it, it could open up a whole can of worms for the gaming industry. And if you don't believe me, ask Damon Watson."
"Watson. He's an attorney who represents game companies. He works for Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd in Columbia, SC. He actually held a roundtable discussion on MMOG addiction and the risks the industry faces a few months ago at the Game Developer's Conference."
"Yeah, but he's a lawyer. He's paid to worry about this stuff. What do the game developers think? Did you bother asking them?"
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"A lot were at that roundtable, in fact. I've talked with a few of them since then, but they asked to remain anonymous so their companies legal departments didn't come down on them like a ton of bricks. To answer your question, though, they recognized that it's a flashpoint issue. Any time you mix the words 'kids' and 'addiction' you've got a potential problem."
"Well, ok, but what about personal responsibility? If you notice you've been playing for 10 hours, shouldn't you know enough to turn off your PC or console and get your butt outside?"
"Unquestionably. And if it's a kid playing, his or her parent should unplug the machine and make them do something else. The developer's not responsible for doing that. That would seem to be a matter of common sense, but I think we both know that common sense and lawsuits don't always go hand in hand. And by using the word 'addictive,' you're just asking for trouble."
"You may have a point."
"So... you'll stop describing your stuff as 'addictive'?"
"Oh heck no! That might cut into my profits!"
"Riiiiiight. I've got to be going now."
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an email.