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: 9 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.

In the category of multi-platform games, only four 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 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 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.


Disenfranchisement of reflex seizures ending?

The new definition of epilepsy makes it clear that reflex seizures "count" as evidence of epilepsy. In previous definitions, this was not explicity stated.

The new definition of epilepsy makes it clear that reflex seizures “count” as evidence of epilepsy. In previous definitions, this was not explicity stated.

A new definition of epilepsy published this week affirms that photosensitive and other reflex seizures qualify as “real” epilepsy. This clarification may eventually help increase awareness of seizures from video games and other electronic media.

Although reflex seizures have long been included in official classification schemes of epileptic seizures, they don’t fit cleanly into established categories of seizure types and epilepsy syndromes. In neurology training they are typically mentioned only briefly. And typically they are taken too lightly by doctors using the prevailing diagnostic criteria for epilepsy: at least two unprovoked seizures at least 24 hours apart.     

Because reflex seizures, by definition, are provoked by specific triggers, there’s confusion and most doctors have been reluctant to diagnose epilepsy in people whose epileptic seizures require an environmental provocation.  The authors of the new definition paper acknowledge this:

Under limits of the current definition, [a] patient might have photosensitive epilepsy, yet not be considered to have epilepsy because the seizures are provoked by lights…People with reflex epilepsies previously have been disenfranchised by the requirement that seizures be unprovoked. The inclusion of reflex epilepsy syndromes in a practical clinical definition of epilepsy now brings these individuals into the epilepsy community.” 

Diagnostic criteria under the new definition now include at least two unprovoked or reflex seizures at least 24 hours apart. The new definition also allows an epilepsy diagnosis after a single seizure–either unprovoked or reflex–if there is a high probability of recurrence.

I’ve written previously about the inconsistency inherent in using the criterion of “unprovoked” to diagnose epilepsy in people whose seizures happen only in response to sensory triggers such as flashing light. This thinking (along with the assumption that photosensitive epilepsy is very rare) has led to marginalization of reflex seizures in the research community and among clinicians as well. Marginalization means doctors have been underdiagnosing reflex epilepsy, researchers seeking funding pursue other topics to study, and the public and public policy makers are largely unaware of the public health issue of photosensitive seizures.

The practical clinical definition was developed by a 19-member multinational task force of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), incorporating input from hundreds of other clinicians, researchers, patients, and other interested parties. I’m more than pleased that the ILAE is choosing to make it clear that reflex epilepsy deserves the same respect as other forms of the disease (the new definition paper characterizes epilepsy as a disease rather than a disorder). It’s fortunate that the chair of the ILAE task force that produced the new definition is Robert Fisher, MD, PhD of Stanford, lead author of the 2005 consensus paper describing seizures from visual stimulation as “a serious public health problem.” No doubt Dr. Fisher’s appreciation of the magnitude of the problem was instrumental in ensuring that the task force addressed it.

Not all epileptologists agree with all aspects of the new epilepsy definition–and Epilepsia has given them a voice as well, publishing half a dozen commentaries, all of which are available free online. I contributed a piece as well, providing a patient/family perspective.

Of course, it remains to be seen how long it will take for neurologists to shift their attitudes and diagnostic practices regarding reflex epilepsy. Perhaps the inclusion of reflex seizures in the epilepsy definition will help dispell the idea that reflex seizures are rare.


Removing seizure triggers doesn’t spoil the fun

A short video clip on the website of Vanderquest Limited simultaneously shows a music video both before and after changes were made for photosensitive epilepsy safety. Read on for a link to it.

Gaming fans who object to the concept of seizure-safe games have some major misconceptions about how their favorite games would look after seizure-inducing visuals are removed.

I’ve seen people in online forums threaten to stop their game subscription if the game’s images are made safe. These folks are assuming that making safety modifications to the graphics will mean “neutering” the game experience in a way that ruins their enjoyment. In fact, very minor changes to images, which can be pretty hard to detect, are often all that’s needed.

Thanks to extensive research that defined the characteristics of images that induce seizures, it’s possible to make small changes that interrupt any such seizure-generating sequences. For example, after changes are made to some video frames, the flash interval–more than 3 flashes per second–which can lead to a seizure in people with photosensitive epilepsy, no longer induces seizures.

Want some proof?

NOTE: For those with visual sensitivity, before you click on the upcoming link to side-by-side videos, know that you should be able to view the page safely because the problem images aren’t very large. If you’d prefer not to risk it, you might want to step back farther from your screen or cover the left side of your screen, because that’s where the problem images are.

Now click to see the side-by-side images of a music video running in its original form (with safety violations) and after modifications were made to comply with seizure safety guidelines (in the UK, they’re requirements, not guidelines). The changes are very subtle! Can you find them? As you’ll see in the modified version, even visual sequences that contain some flashes and quick cuts can therefore pass the safety test. Basically, portions of some flashing sequences (9 instances) have been altered or removed, which does little to change the overall viewing experience. Edits to the video that allowed it to be broadcast were done within a single day by London-based post-production firm Vanderquest Limited.

Readers familiar with the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer that I routinely use to test video material for seizure safety will recognize the HFPA results shown beneath both versions of the music video. Although the original, uncorrected official version could not be broadcast in the UK due to regulations barring seizure-inducing material from being shown there, it lives on on YouTube.

Imagine these types of edits to the user interface of a video game. Exactly how do they ruin the gaming experience?! Or artistic expression?


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