MMORPGs don’t provoke many seizures

“Got to find my way out of this damned forest already…!”

What do these massive, multi-player, online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have in common?

Grim Dawn
Guild Wars 2
The Secret World
Civilization V
World of Warcraft

I tested all of them for photosensitive seizure safety.  Five out of these seven games tested within photosensitive seizure safety guidelines, meaning they’re unlikely to provoke visually induced seizures. Judging by what I found, this genre of video games is probably one of the safest, in contrast to, say, racing or shooter games. Those that failed contained just one failure apiece, based on what I looked at, anyway.

Lots of factors contribute to the risk of a game provoking seizures.Visual overload results from certain styles of directing (close-ups, quick cuts and zooms, overall pacing, image brightness), the artistic “look” (bold outlines, bright colors rather than a more “painterly” approach), and production (maximizing speed, violence, and explosions).  In general the MMORPGs show a wide-angle view of the action, which lessens the visual impact of each individual blow, shot,or  explosion that is shown with a screen flash. The scenes are built by designers who pride themselves on the careful crafting of the game’s elaborate and fantastical story lines, landscapes, creatures, and structures. The pace is slow enough for players to appreciate the scenery and plan strategies.

Testing Methodology

To get an unbiased sample of MMORPGs to examine, I turned to the GameSpy newsletter. Its current issue contains reviews of seven highly anticipated video games to be released or updated this year. I decided to test those. To determine whether these games could provoke seizures, I downloaded official marketing teasers and trailers plus gameplay clips from the Web and submitted them for analysis to the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer.  I have no financial interest in any of the companies involved in developing, producing, testing, or marketing any video games.

Admittedly, I’m not using rigorous sampling techniques. I don’t have a staff of reviewers or statisticians to ensure total methodological correctness in this investigation. So here’s what I did. If the FPA found no problem segments in the first trailer I looked at for a particular game, I tested another trailer or clip for that same game. My thinking was that if one trailer/clip contains no seizure-inducing segments, that doesn’t mean another clip would fare the same. In the case of World of Warcraft, though, I looked at four or five trailers that all passed the FPA. At that point it seemed reasonable to judge that the game is probably not teeming with undiscovered flashing material.

On the other hand, if I came across any material that failed the safety test, I didn’t feel the need to look for additional samples of that game just to show it has safe sequences, too. If a developer/publisher demonstrates unsafe video sequences in a trailer used for marketing, that suggests there may well be more unsafe material. Assuming the trailers posted online are reasonably representative of the game content, this exercise in looking at trailers can provide some idea of how risky the games might be, photosensitive seizure-wise.

Here are the results. And the disclaimers. The results are based on only the visual sequences I downloaded to be analyzed by the FPA software. Your results may vary! Certainly other excerpts, levels, expansions, versions, etc. of any given game may produce different results, as may extreme levels of photosensitivity. And any game using anime style–whether it calls itself an MMORPG or not–is very unlikely to be safe. With all the disclaimers, what is the value here? It’s exactly this:  if you have any concerns about the possibility of video games triggering seizures, it does seem that for the most part this type of game presents a lower risk than fast-action close-up shooting and racing. I’ll look at these other genres in upcoming posts.


Grim Dawn

Guild 2

TERA – some segments stayed just inside the safe zone, and its Frogster (European publisher) logo-in-motion didn’t pass

Passed, but limited “footage” was available for testing


World of Warcraft

Problems found

Civilization V – 1 brief sequence noted in 3 trailers/gameplay clips

The Secret World — 1 sequence noted in 3 trailers/gameplay clips

Click on each screen for a better look at images (upper left) within video segments that could trigger photosensitive seizures. Degree of compliance with seizure safety guidelines is shown in the line graph, where anything beneath the horizontal line falls within the guidelines.

Flicker in this scene caused the one seizure safety failure I encountered in looking at three downloaded clips/trailers of Civilization V.

This flame-filled sequence in TERA stayed awfully close to the pass/fail line. People with a greater degree of sensitivity to flash might be at risk.

A rapidly changing arrangement of newspapers in The Secret World caused excessive flash.

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