Photosensitivity shares the Twilight spotlight

One of the biggest challenges of spreading awareness about video games causing seizures is that many video game seizures take place when people are alone. With nobody else around to witness and document these events, people assume these are very rare. Along comes a blockbuster movie with a graphic scene that triggers seizures, and photosensitive seizures are suddenly in the spotlight, as it were.

I’ve held off writing about the seizures triggered by a scene in the movie Twilight: Breaking Dawn, because I keep waiting to hear whether it’s in fact causing “epileptic seizures in filmgoers across America,” as described in the Guardian. Although the story has been picked up by many news outlets, it is based on just a handful of reported events. There are still not many people who have publicly reported seizures. (If you want to report one, you can share your experience at https://www.facebook.com/breakingdawnseizures and
https://sites.google.com/site/breakingdawnseizures/home.)

The Twilight seizures are getting widely publicized because, in addition to the high profile of the movie, the seizures that have been reported were convulsive events occurring in a crowded movie theater. A theater inDedham,Massachusettsstopped the film while the stricken viewer was given emergency assistance. In a way these people are fortunate that their sensitivity to flashing light became so evident that they can take precautions in the future. It’s possible other audience members had seizures that didn’t involve convulsions and weren’t recognized as seizures.

The birthing scene is described as graphic. In addition to the visual stress of the flashing, viewers are probably stressed by what they’re seeing. Some of the news stories remind readers of graphic scenes in other movies, such as 127 Hours provoking visceral, physical reactions in certain viewers. Stress lowers the seizure threshold, meaning that the same degree of flashing in a context that’s not so tense might not result in a seizure.

The excitement of playing video games probably has this same effect of lowering the seizure threshold. Also, while playing alone it may be easier to enter an altered state of awareness of one’s surroundings that lowers the seizure threshold. My daughter preferred to play with nobody else in the room so that she could get into a “zone” she found very pleasant. Unfortunately, once in the zone, seizures were more likely and she was less likely to have the awareness to sense them coming and prevent them by stopping or covering one eye.

I contacted the British Board of Film Classification, which screens movies prior to their release, to check for objectionable content and rate the  maturity level of the content. In the UK film makers and distributors are responsible for identifying material that could provoke seizures and other adverse reactions in audiences, and provideing the appropriate warnings to audiences. If BBFC examiners notice sequences they think could affect a large number of viewers, they may require that audience warnings be added. For example, the review board noted last year that Enter the Void “includes a number of sequences of flashing and flickering lights that are likely to trigger a physical reaction in vulnerable viewers. It also contains extended sequences featuring rotating and handheld camerawork that may induce motion sickness in some viewers.”

In the UK, according to a BBFC spokesperson, no reports of Twilight: Breaking Dawn seizures have been received, nor did the BBFC identify any material likely to provoke seizures in those with light sensitivity.


One Comment on “Photosensitivity shares the Twilight spotlight”

  1. […] they are to the screen and the larger that screen is. Intensity is also key. Jessica Solodar, writing on her blog about the connection between video games and photosensitive seizures, notes that when occurring at a particularly dramatic and physically intense point in a film or […]


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