Does size matter in seizure warnings?

photosensitive seizure warnings in video gamesNew York State Assemblyman Richard Englebright has again filed a bill requiring all establishments in the state that rent or sell video games and game components to display a prominent seizure warning. It’s good to see that he is attempting to address the seizure problem, and quite refreshing to see legislation that isn’t all about setting limits on the content of games available to minors. Certainly by filing a bill he is doing something to raise awareness.

I doubt it would be very helpful. Think of cigarettes. The FDA requires warnings on packages and advertisements and has proposed larger warnings accompanied by graphic depictions of health consequences. How many people who set out to buy cigarettes would be deterred by this? They want cigarettes and will buy anyway. The public is aware that cigarettes are harmful not because of warning labels, but because the Federal government has jumped in with tobacco education and prevention programs delivered at the local level. Children now learn about the risks at school. Doctors inquire about smoking and advise their patients who smoke to stop. The tobacco companies participate in education programs as a result of lawsuits or in the interest of preventing further tobacco regulation.

As with tobacco, the health hazards of video game seizures can’t be addressed with printed warnings. Nobody pays attention. There needs to be a coordinated effort by the entertainment software industry to educate consumers and doctors. Despite plenty of scientific studies, few physicians in the U.S. are aware that video games can cause seizures of all kinds. Doctors should routinely ask their pediatric and adult patients about video game use and its possible effects on their health. In addition, the industry needs to make its games in compliance with photosensitive seizure safety guidelines, which were developed for broadcast TV but should apply to other media as well. An aggressive public and medical education program is urgently needed to protect consumers until the only games in circulation are those that don’t exceed safety guidelines.

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