Seizures from 8 of 12 best Nintendo games

A 1994 case history in an Irish medical journal documented seizures in a 13-year-old boy that were triggered by a Sonic the Hedgehog video game. Current versions of the game continue to include seizure-inducing sequences.

A case history in a 1994 medical journal documented seizures in a 13-year-old boy that were triggered by a Sonic the Hedgehog video game. The Sonic games just tested continue to include seizure-inducing sequences.

Been thinking about buying any of the 12 titles that GamesBeat thinks are the season’s best Nintendo-only games? Testing shows that just four seem to be free of seizure-provoking visuals.

Among the Nintendo games that don’t comply with seizure safety guidelines are several that one would expect to be seizure-inducing. Two brand-new animé-style games, Persona Q and Hyrule Warriors, predictably failed the seizure safety test because animé typically does. Unsafe graphics in Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Smash Bros., two of the most well-established game franchises, are consistent with seizure-provoking games in their respective product families.

Nintendo use this final

GamesBeat picked these Nintendo-only titles for its early holiday gaming guide this year.

Pokémon video games vs Pokémon video game trailers

Of the three Pokémon games, one isn’t really a game so much as a set of digital drawing and painting tutorials. Interesting that the other two Pokémon games are safe, too. I instantly associate Pokémon with the so-called Pokémon incident in 1997. That event was a Pokémon cartoon broadcast, when about 600 Japanese children simultaneously experienced seizure symptoms severe enough that they were taken to emergency rooms.

Maybe because of that history, I thought, the developers of these games have taken extra care with image safety? To test this theory I put a few other Pokémon games through an image safety assessment tool—the others passed, too.

Hold on, though. Although the Pokémon games themselves still use the same not-very-animated, not-very-2014, unlikely-to-provoke-seizures style of animation of much older games, a promotional video for these same games violates seizure safety guidelines big time. How can that be? Here’s how: a just-released trailer for Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby is done in a more traditional animé style. So technically the Pokémon games pass the seizure safety test–but beware of seizures from the videos that market the games.

A new animé-style  trailer uses much bolder graphics than the Pokémon game it promotes.

The new animé-style trailer for Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby uses much bolder graphics …

...than the game it promotes.

…than the Pokémon games it’s promoting. While the game is safe, the eye-catching trailer fails the seizure safety test.

Unaware of the seizure hazard from animé, Sports website Sportskeeda.com commented:

“To celebrate the upcoming release, the Pokemon Company has launched an anime style trailer for the two games…It’s pretty cool of Pokemon to release an anime styled trailer, given how popular the series and manga is. And even though the anime and game are very different from each other, fans of the series are still going to appreciate the extra effort.”

When The Pokémon Company in 2012 used this same marketing strategy with an animé promotional trailer to “celebrate” the release of non-animé Pokémon Black 2 and Pokémon White 2, Youtube viewers of the combined trailer lamented that the (seizure-inducing) animé in the promotional clip looked a lot better than the humdrum (visually safe) appearance of the games’ graphics.

These visually jazzed-up trailers would seem to raise customers’ expectations that in future releases The Pokémon Company intends to incorporate animé style into cutscenes and perhaps gameplay.

Testing Methodology

To test the games I submit downloaded gameplay clips and promotional trailers to the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer. The FPA is widely used by producers and networks in the UK—including by the BBC—to ensure seizure safety of all material on broadcast TV. It examines video sequences for very specific and measurable image qualities that researchers have found can trigger seizures:

  • rapidly alternating light and dark images (flash/flicker)
  • certain stripes and geometric patterns with high contrast
  • large areas of very bright (“saturated”) red
  • problem images take up more than one fourth of the screen

Sequences submitted for analysis are video clips available online, some of which are official marketing and gameplay trailers; others are gameplay sessions or cutscenes posted by reviewers or fans. I do not test clips uploaded by fans who have modified the game software.

Action game Bayonetta consists of long fight scenes filled with motion and bright colors.

Action game Bayonetta 2 consists of long fight scenes filled with motion and bright colors.

I typically test at least 4 or 5 clips of a game if no safety violations are found in the first clip. If I have a high level of suspicion due to the game genre and/or overall “look” that there might be unsafe images that I haven’t yet found, I may test a lot more clips. Before finding a clip of Bayonetta 2 that failed the test, I tested about a dozen clips. Its large, fast-moving, brightly colored designs led me to believe there had to be seizure-inducing sequences.

Disclaimer

Your results could vary. Games I’ve listed as safe could have seizure-provoking sequences that I was unable to locate. Furthermore, the seizure threshold of individuals is affected by a number of factors including illness, hunger, stress, fatigue, alcohol, and the player’s menstrual cycle, among others. So a game that has caused no problems over an extended period of use could still trigger a seizure under different conditions.


Best new PC-only games are safe–pretty much

ArcheAge, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, Civilization: Beyond Earth, Gauntlet, Neverending NightmaresBetter news than usual. For people susceptible to photosensitive seizures, the five best exclusive-to-PC games for the holiday shopping season (per GamesBeat) appear safe. Well, mostly.

There’s one very important caveat: While the gameplay itself seems to stay within visual safety guidelines, a cinematic clip from World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor failed image safety tests. You can apparently play World of Warcraft safely, but you need to beware of the risk of seizures from the cinematic game openers and other in-game cutscenes and cinematic material that move the story along. I didn’t give the game a passing rating because it’s likely that players will see the problem video sequences.

Going forward, when testing games for seizure safety, I will routinely test cutscenes in addition to gameplay clips. Unfortunately it’s quite possible that in preparing prior posts I’ve been unaware of some safety failures because I wasn’t systematically looking to test these sequences. I plan to revisit the test results I’ve recently posted and will be updating those posts with any new findings.

Four of the five games are either role-playing (RPG) or strategy games, which tend to be shown from a wide angle that permits scenes showing entire battle fields. These “big picture” scenes are less likely than close-up shots to have areas of flash, saturated color, and patterns that take up a major portion of the screen. Unless these visual effects cover more than one quarter of the screen they do not typically pose a seizure risk.

The flash problem

In the problem sequence in Warlords of Draenor excerpted below, a bright orange screen alternates with a darker screen. The switch between dark and bright happens several times within a fraction of a second. The rapid sequence creates a flash, and because it occurs faster than 3 times per second, it exceeds the flash rate safety limit for photosensitive epilepsy.

Alternating images in the video sequence create a flash effect.

The bright orange frames alternating with a black and white image in this sequence from World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor creates a flash effect. This sequence of screens, captured by the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer, represents roughly a third of a second of video.

For people with photosensitive epilepsy, flashing red (or shades of red) creates an even higher seizure risk. When the video sequence (at bottom of the analysis tool screen capture below) is assessed for seizure safety, an unsafe level of flash is shown in the green line on the graph. The level of red flash (red line on the graph) is even further beyond the safety limit.

Disclaimers

Your results could vary. Games I’ve listed as safe could have seizure-provoking sequences that I was unable to locate. I don’t do this testing while actually playing these video games. Instead I work with video clips available online, some of which are official marketing and gameplay trailers; others are gameplay sessions posted by reviewers or fans. I do not test fans’ gameplay from games that were acknowledged modified with other software.

In addition, the seizure threshold of individuals is affected by a number of factors including illness, hunger, stress, fatigue, length of play, and the player’s menstrual cycle, among others. So a game that seems OK may trigger a seizure under different conditions.

Testing methodology 

I run downloaded gameplay clips, cinematic clips, and promotional trailers for each game and submitted the sequences to the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer. The FPA is widely used by producers and networks in the UK—including by the BBC—to ensure seizure safety of all material on broadcast TV. It examines video sequences for very specific and measurable image qualities that researchers have found can trigger seizures:

  • rapidly alternating light and dark images (flash/flicker)
  • certain stripes and geometric patterns with high contrast
  • large areas of very bright (“saturated”) red
  • problem images take up more than one fourth of the screen

If the first clip I test of a game fails the safety test, I note that and move on to test the next game. I typically test at least 4 or 5 additional clips of a game if no safety violations are found initially. If I have a high level of suspicion due to the game genre and/or overall look of the sequences that there might be unsafe “footage” that I haven’t yet found, I may test a lot more clips.

In recent posts I’ve shown the results of testing editors’ picks for best-of-Sony and best-of-multiplatform games for this year/holiday season. Both groups included lots of seizure-inducing titles. In coming posts I’ll look at best of Nintendo and Microsoft games.

 

 

 


More top 2014 Sony-only games: 5 of 8 unsafe

Here’s another batch of exclusive-to-Sony game titles that I tested for seizure safety. These eight games were chosen by Inside Gaming Daily as the year’s best Playstation-only games. Of the eight, five contain images that could provoke seizures in viewers or players.

The test results:

Driveclub, Knack,Infamous Second Son, Final Fantasy, MLB, Entwined, Killzone, "The Last of Us"

Inside Gaming Daily chose these as the year’s best Playstation 4 2014 titles.

An example of totally unnecessary seizure-provoking material

Scenes of the playing field and the stands in MLB 14: The Show don’t contain seizure-provoking sequences. But the alternating blue and red stars that occasionally scroll across the screen, between plays, for a fraction of a second are a problem. They create enough flash effect and saturated red to provoke seizures. The game could be seizure-safe game just by omitting these graphics sequences.

Nothing in the game play itself would provoke a seizure.

Nothing in the visual presentation of the game play itself would provoke a seizure.

Eliminating these graphics sequences would place the game within safety guidelines for visually-induced seizures.

But these fast-moving graphics sequences that appear between plays are not in compliance with safety guidelines for preventing visually-induced seizures.

...the alternating colors create a flash effect that can trigger seizures.

Even though the blue and red graphic design appears for less than a second…

Even though the entire sequence of blue and red stars crosses the screen in less than a second...

…the alternating colors create a flash effect and include a large screen area of saturated red. This sequence, which appears periodically throughout the game, fails the seizure safety test on both counts.

Testing Methodology

To test the games I submit downloaded gameplay clips and promotional trailers to the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer. The FPA is widely used by producers and networks in the UK—including by the BBC—to ensure seizure safety of all material on broadcast TV. It examines video sequences for very specific and measurable image qualities that researchers have found can trigger seizures:

  • rapidly alternating light and dark images (flash/flicker)
  • certain stripes and geometric patterns with high contrast
  • large areas of very bright (“saturated”) red
  • problem images take up more than one fourth of the screen

Sequences submitted for analysis are video clips available online, some of which are official marketing and gameplay trailers; others are gameplay sessions posted by reviewers or fans. I do not test fans’ sequences from games that were modified with other software.

I typically test at least 4 or 5 clips of a game if no safety violations are found in the first clip. If I have a high level of suspicion due to the game genre and/or overall look of the sequences that there might be unsafe “footage” that I haven’t yet found, I may test a lot more clips. Then there are games like Entwined–as soon as I started viewing the first clip, I strongly suspected there would be seizure-provoking sequences.

Entwined0

Entwined is beautifully depicted on the screen…

…but unfortunately it has many fast-moving patterns and a lot of bright flashing, too.

Disclaimer

Your results could vary. Games I’ve listed as safe could have seizure-provoking sequences that I was unable to locate. Furthermore, the seizure threshold of individuals is affected by a number of factors including illness, hunger, stress, fatigue, and the player’s menstrual cycle, among others. So a game that seems OK the first time it’s played may trigger a seizure under different conditions.


Sony’s top 2014 games: 5 of 9 test as unsafe

Games (and films) in animé art style typically contain many instances of unsafe image sequences. This screen shot is from Fairy Fencer F.

Games (and films) in animé art style typically contain many instances of unsafe image sequences. This screen shot is from Fairy Fencer F.

Roughly half of the year’s most eagerly anticipated made-for-Sony video games could set off a seizure. I tested the seizure safety of the nine Sony-only titles selected last month by GamesBeat for its “early holiday gaming guide.” Five games failed the safety test, indicating that their graphics exceed safety guidelines for flash, intense color, and/or patterns known to trigger seizures.

Watch out for animé graphics 

In this selection of games exclusive to Sony platforms, those made for the PS3 were more likely to trigger seizures than those for the PS4 or Vita–probably because the PS3 games in this batch of titles were overwhelmingly illustrated in animé style graphics. Animé is the animation style used in the infamous Pokémon cartoon incident in Japan, when hundreds of Japanese children viewing the cartoon experienced seizure symptoms simultaneously and went to emergency rooms. 

Here are the results for the nine Sony games:

Fairy Fencer F Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star  Frozen Synapse Prime   Natural Doctrine  Driveclub   Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord   Samurai Warriors 4   LittleBigPlanet 3   Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix

Testing methodology 

I run downloaded gameplay clips and promotional trailers for each game and submitted the sequences to the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer. The FPA is widely used by producers and networks in the UK—including by the BBC—to ensure seizure safety of all material on broadcast TV. It examines video sequences for very specific and measurable image qualities that researchers have found can trigger seizures:

  • rapidly alternating light and dark images (flash/flicker)
  • certain stripes and geometric patterns with high contrast
  • large areas of very bright (“saturated”) red
  • problem images take up more than one fourth of the screen
This screen from Fairy Fencer F from a sequence that exceeded safety guidelines for screen area is completely filled with saturated red.

This completely red screen from a sequence in Fairy Fencer F failed the safety test due to excessive saturated red color.

Sequences submitted for analysis are video clips available online, some of which are official marketing and gameplay trailers; others are gameplay sessions posted by reviewers or fans. I do not test fans’ sequences from games that were modified with other software.

If the first clip I test of a game fails the safety test, I note that and move on to test the next game. I typically test at least 4 or 5 additional clips of a game if no safety violations are found initially. If I have a high level of suspicion due to the game genre and/or overall look of the sequences that there might be unsafe “footage” that I haven’t yet found, I may test a lot more clips. For example, knowing that the fast-moving views in racing games may be seizure-inducing, I tested more than a dozen Driveclub clips.

Little Big Planet3

The art style, story line, viewing perspective, and pacing in Little Big Planet3 don’t create seizure-provoking images.

Similarly, the art style and pace in other games look highly unlikely to pose a seizure risk–I tested only a couple of clips from LittleBigPlanet 3.

Disclaimer

Your results could vary. Games I’ve listed as safe could have seizure-provoking sequences that I was unable to locate. Furthermore, the seizure threshold of individuals is affected by a number of factors including illness, hunger, stress, fatigue, and the player’s menstrual cycle, among others. So a game that seems OK the first time it’s played may trigger a seizure under different conditions.

I’ve already tested what GamesBeat editors consider the year’s biggest games for multiple platforms. In upcoming posts I’ll share test results on their choices for PC-based games and for games exclusively built for Nintendo and Microsoft gaming platforms.


2014’s biggest games: 10* of 13 fail safety test

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is presented in anime style--an animation format that people with photosensitive epilepsy should avoid. Not surprisingly, it failed the safety test.

Animation used in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is Japanese animé style–a bold, flash-filled format that people with photosensitive epilepsy should avoid. Not surprisingly, the game failed the safety test. See this same screen capture in the test results below.

It’s that time of year when lots of major video games are released, in advance of the holiday shopping season. The marketing build-up has been underway for many months, with snippets of game play shown at industry events and in reviews and cinematic trailers. By testing these snippets I can find out which of these games are likely to create a risk to people vulnerable to visually induced seizures.

The year’s “biggest” games

The editorial staff of GamesBeat (part of tech publication VentureBeat) has already published an “early holiday gaming guide” with its choices for this year’s most eagerly anticipated titles.  So far I’ve tested what GamesBeat editors consider the biggest games to be released soon for multiple platforms. In upcoming posts I’ll share test results on their choices for PC-based games and for games exclusively built for Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft gaming platforms.

Of the multi-platform games, only four three* appear to pose little risk of photosensitive seizures:

  • Assassin’s Creed: Unity
  • Assassin’s Creed: Rogue
  • NBA 2K15
  • The Evil Within *

Images that can provoke photosensitive seizures were found in the remaining nine ten* games:

  • Disney Infinity 2.0 Marvel Super Heroes
  • Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
  • Skylanders: Trap Team
  • Alien: Isolation
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare   
  • The Crew
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition
  • Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor  (although the failing sequence was found only in a clip of pre-alpha code, this fact may or may not be relevant to the safety compliance of the final product. The appearance of the images certainly looked comparable to release quality.)
  • * The Evil Within (Additional testing on 11/13/2014 that included the ending cutscene from The Evil Within revealed that the game fails the seizure safety test. Some image sequences in the ending were spectacularly in violation of guidelines. Apologies to anyone who was misled by the original version of this post.)
The image in the upper left is taken from a sequence that failed the photosensitive epilepsy safety test when analyzed by the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer.

When assessed by the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer, the image in the upper left of this screen capture is shown as part of a flashing sequence with multiple violations of photosensitive epilepsy flash safety guidelines.

Methodology 

To determine whether a video game is safe for individuals susceptible to visually induced seizures, I run them through a photosensitive seizure safety analyzer, the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer. The FPA is widely used by producers and networks in the UK—including by the BBC—to ensure seizure safety of all material on broadcast TV. It examines video sequences for very specific and measurable image qualities that researchers have found can trigger seizures:

  • rapidly alternating light and dark images (flash/flicker)
  • certain stripes and geometric patterns with high contrast
  • large areas of very bright (“saturated”) red
  • problem images take up more than one fourth of the screen

Visual safety criteria for video sequences are precisely defined in this document used by regulators of broadcast TV in the UK. The criteria were arrived at based on extensive clinical testing.

If the first clip I test of a game fails the safety test, I note that and move on to test the next game. I typically test at least 4 or 5 additional clips of a game if no safety violations are found. I don’t do this testing while actually playing these video games. Instead I work with video clips available online, some of which are official marketing and gameplay trailers; others are gameplay sessions posted by reviewers or fans. I do not test fans’ sequences from games that were modified with other software.

Disclaimer

Your results could vary. Games I’ve listed as safe could have seizure-provoking sequences that I was unable to locate. Furthermore, the seizure threshold of individuals is affected by a number of factors including illness, hunger, stress, fatigue, and the player’s menstrual cycle, among others. So a game that seems OK the first time it’s played may trigger a seizure under different conditions.


Study challenges reliability of EEG test for photosensitivity

ouijaboard

The EEG strobe test produced astonishingly unreliable results in a recent study.

If the results of a recent study at SUNY at Buffalo are any indication, there are an awful lot of people vulnerable to visually induced seizures who are being told they aren’t at risk. The study showed that testing for photosensitivity using EEG with photic stimulation provides unreliable information. In the wake of these findings, ruling out photosensitive epilepsy–and ignoring the seizure risk from video games–simply on the basis of intermittent photic stimulation results would seem very unwise.

This study–not yet published–by the Buffalo research team found that the test is poorly correlated with vulnerability to visually induced seizures in everyday life. Just 6.2 percent of patients with a history of visually provoked seizures tested positive for photosensitivity.

The standard test for photosensitivity is intermittent photic stimulation—a strobe light flashing at specified frequencies—while hooked up to EEG. Abnormal waves provoked by the photic stimulation are known as the photoparoxysmal response (PPR).  (To avoid triggering a seizure during the procedure, the flashing is halted as soon as any of these abnormal waves appear.)

Researchers have known for a long time that many people who test positive never actually experience photic seizures. The Buffalo study confirms this:  of 86 patients whose EEG yielded a PPR, just 13 (15.11 percent) reported having experienced visually triggered seizures. What’s new here is the finding that many people who test negative do actually experience these seizures.

The investigators, led by Novreen Shahdad, MD,  initiated their study after a patient with a clear history of seizures provoked by electronic screens did not test positive for photosensitivity. “With the increasing popularity of video games and parental concern of their predisposition for seizures,” the authors wrote, “there is a need to identify individuals at risk for PIS [photic induced seizures].”

Shahdad and her colleagues examined a Buffalo EEG database and found 129 patients between 1999 and 2013 who reported seizures triggered by TV, computer use, and video games. Of those patients, a total of 8 tested positive for photosensitivity. Thirty of the 129 patients had reported a history of video game seizures. Of those 30, only one showed a photosensitive response on EEG!

Photosensitivity is defined by researchers as the appearance on EEG, in response to photic stimulation, of certain spike and wave patterns characteristic of epilepspy. Note that the criterion for photosensitivity is not the occurrence of visually induced seizures in everyday life—it refers only to the strobe test.

The study concluded:

“In contrast to the general impression, our study did not find a significant association of a positive response to photic stimulation in patients with photic induced seizures (PIS). This association was seen only in 6.2% of patients with PIS. In addition, PPR on EEG was not associated with statistically significant increase of PIS. Hence we conclude that PPR cannot be used as an isolated predictor for PIS.”

I’ve previously raised questions about diagnosing vulnerability to visually induced seizures soleley on the basis of EEG response to photic stimulation. More study is certainly warranted.


Nintendo, Activision, Ubisoft preview unsafe games at E3

The image shown in the upper left of this screen shot, from a flashing sequence in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., fails the seizure safety test. The graph on the right shows the brightness of the flash exceeding the safe limit.

The image shown in the upper left of this screenshot, from Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., is one frame in a flashing sequence in  that fails the seizure safety test. The graph on the right shows the brightness of the flash exceeding the safe limit.

The 2014 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) just wrapped up in Los Angeles with all the major game publishers previewing their upcoming releases. The big companies publishing these games have mammoth budgets and should be able to fund some quality control that supports the interest of public health. Apparently that line item is still not getting the focus it deserves.

Last week PCMag.com listed the 10 most anticipated games to be announced at E3. How many of them might trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy?

Destiny, a massively multiplayer first-person shooter game to be released in September 2014, is an entirely new game. It fails the safety test, too.

Destiny, a massively multiplayer first-person shooter game to be released in September, fails the safety test, too. Unlike the Nintendo game, it’s a completely new product. Both screen shots are taken from the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer, which tests images for seizure safety.

So far, 4 of them tested positive for seizure-inducing sequences–meaning they failed the Harding automated seizure safety test. This isn’t a final result because not all have enough “footage” available online for me to test adequately. Some may ultimately seem safe.

These tested as unsafe:

Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo)

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Activision)

Destiny (Activision)

Tom Clancy’s The Division (Ubisoft)

In other words, the patterns, flashes, and/or red intensity of onscreen images produce the exact type of visual stimulation–that’s been carefully defined by researchers–that places viewers at risk of photosensitive seizures. People with a genetic predisposition for these seizures are vulnerable, whether or not they have ever experienced a seizure before, and whether they even know they have this genetic trait.

Nintendo’s Mario games have been triggering seizures for more than 20 years. Reports began surfacing in 1992 about seizures from Super Mario. As a result, a study on video game seizures published in 1999 used Super Mario World to test subjects known to be photosensitive. And a lawsuit was filed in 2001 by parents of a boy who had a seizure while playing Super Mario Kart.

But what about new games such as Destiny? A whole new game provides the perfect opportunity to create an entirely novel visual experience. Why not architect the whole thing keeping in mind the seizure hazard that persists in many games?

In sum, some of the video game industry’s biggest players are continuing to ignore safety guidelines, placing the public at unnecessary risk. I don’t know where the myth originated that games produced nowadays don’t produce seizures.


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