Warning: thoughts on warnings

video game manual seizure warning nobody reads

Somebody thought to include this unusual caution in the appendix of my camera’s user manual: “If using this product on an airplane, observe all instructions of the airline.” OK, that takes care of liability for the camera manufacturer in case something goes wrong on a plane when someone aboard isn’t complying with the airline’s protocol. Do you ever read some of these cautions aloud just for fun? I’ve done that—and still do—because often they seem so farfetched.

How carefully does anyone read the seizure warnings on games? How carefully do you read the warnings and disclaimers that come with absolutely every consumer product? The legal department of every retail manufacturing company tries to protect the company from every possible situation that might cause harm to consumers. If you were to read and absorb all of the warnings, you’d never use the product, right? Either you’d be too frightened to proceed or you’d be busy still plowing through the small print of the manual. Yes, technically the warnings do provide a certain amount of protection from liability.  If you’re buying a new game for your child, just try making the child wait to play while you study and convey all the information!  And, while we’re getting real, are you going to make sure that your child takes a 10 minute break from playing every hour?  Even when your child is over at a friend’s house?  Everybody plays and you probably never heard of anyone you know having a seizure while playing or shortly afterwards.

Take a look at this page from the Nintendo Game Boy health and safety manual. To Nintendo’s credit, seizures are right at the top, followed by repetitive motion injuries and eyestrain. Then battery leakage and hardware precautions and maintenance (including these advisories: “Do not drop, hit or otherwise abuse the Game Boy or components” and “The LCD may be damaged by sharp objects or pressure. Take great care to protect the display from scratches or stains.” The health and safety of consumers and the product are apparently considered in the same manual. After that comes FCC information. I don’t know about you, but I scan these things very quickly, and if I see FCC information, I know that’s not very meaningful to me—I’m not even going to understand it. So while Nintendo and all the other game companies may be able to claim the company has done its part by cautioning consumers and is therefore not liable for health problems, it’s not a very effective caution.

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