Signs it could have been a video game seizure

what Alice sees - colors cropped

My daughter Alice drew this image of what she typically saw while regaining full consciousness after a video game seizure

How can you tell you’ve had a seizure? That your child may have?

It can be easy to recognize a seizure in someone else–if the seizure involves classic convulsions. However, if you have convulsions and nobody is with you to witness the episode, when you regain awareness you probably won’t remember any part of the seizure. You might figure out that something like a seizure happened if you’d been sitting down before and don’t know how you ended up on the floor, or if you experience unexpected bruises or muscle soreness. But since the nature of most seizures is that you aren’t fully aware of your surroundings, you probably won’t know all that happened.

Non-convulsive seizures are tougher to detect in yourself or someone else, since some symptoms can be subtle and many could be attributed to other factors. Before, during and after a seizure people may experience strange sensations that are difficult to describe. Children in particular may have trouble realizing that what they’ve experienced is out of the ordinary and should be reported to a parent.

So a lot of seizures are never identified because they aren’t obvious. The most difficult seizures to identify are complex partial seizures, which elude detection but slow down your thinking, mess with your mood, and scramble your body rhythms for days afterward. And of course, some of the symptoms that follow the event itself, such as irritability, could be attributed to any number of factors.

While it would be good to know for sure if what you or your child experienced was a seizure, very often you can’t know.  I’ve put together a 13 Signs You Might Have Had a Seizure While Playing a Video Game list. Consider the possibility that a seizure occurred if you notice rapid onset of any of these symptoms:

seizure symptoms list

Regarding item #13, consider that sometimes you hear about people with such serious addictions to gaming that they play non-stop for many hours without a break. The common assumption is that if they wet or soiled themselves while playing, they were just too involved in the game to want to stop for a bathroom break. I think it’s much more likely that these incidents occur during the involuntary muscle movement and altered consciousness of a seizure and that the player isn’t aware of either the seizure or the mishap.

Why seizure warnings aren’t very helpful

Given the range of possible symptoms, it’s impossible for game publishers to write a meaningful seizure warning that alerts consumers to all possible symptoms. As an example, Microsoft’s photosensitive epilepsy warning—if you can find it in small print at the bottom of the  Xbox Games Stores screen–says that seizures “may have a variety of symptoms, including lightheadedness, altered vision, eye or face twitching, jerking or shaking of arms or legs, disorientation, confusion, or momentary loss of awareness.”

The link to the Microsoft Games seizure warning is not very easy to see. I've circled it for you.

I’ve circled the link to the Microsoft Games seizure warning — it’s pretty easy to miss

If you even read the warning, that’s a lot to absorb and to keep in mind while playing. Most people aren’t looking for reasons not to go ahead and play.  Nobody really wants to think photosensitive seizures could happen to them or their kids, so it isn’t until something doesn’t seem quite right that you might start trying to figure out an explanation.

What you should watch for are unusual feelings, sensations, or behavior that could indicate a seizure’s start, middle, or aftermath. Until you’ve knowingly experienced a seizure, you probably wouldn’t realize those can indicate a seizure. One clue might be if you notice the same set of symptoms happening  on multiple occasions during a particular game, or in other conditions of flashing light (fireworks or flickering fluorescent bulbs, for example).

7 Comments on “Signs it could have been a video game seizure”

  1. J pow says:

    My daughter just had a massive seizure while playing Piano Tiles on the iPad. Now the doctor diagnosed her with epilepsy. I just want to make sure this is a correct diagnosis. Just because a video game caused a seizure shouldn’t necessarily mean someone is epileptic…right?

    • jsolodar says:

      If a video game triggered a seizure, she most likely has photosensitive epilepsy, which does not necessarily mean she has the type of epilepsy you’re probably thinking of. Photosensitive epilepsy sometimes affects people who don’t have seizures except when they are exposed to visual triggers. And there are people with other types of epilepsy who are also photosensitive. To diagnose epilepsy, an EEG (electroencephalogram) is needed. If that was done and epileptic activity showed on it while she was exposed to flashing light, that confirms the diagnosis of photosensitive epilepsy. If the EEG showed epileptic activity during a time when there was no visual stimulus, that indicates a type of epilepsy where seizures can occur spontaneously, without a visual stimulus.


  2. […] When designing an attraction based on a game with seizure-provoking images, shouldn’t the theme park industry be especially mindful of patrons with photosensitive epilepsy? Warnings at the park about rides that could be hazardous to patrons with certain medical conditions such as pregnancy, heart conditions, or epilepsy aren’t enough. Many people don’t even know about their vulnerability to seizures from certain visual effects until they have an unmistakable seizure. Not all seizures are easily noticeable! And even small seizures that aren’t seen can leave impairing after-effects. […]

  3. Tricia says:

    A bit less than a year ago my husband had a seizure while walking into the kitchen. He was playing Watchdogs and started to fell sick. He got up thinking he was dehydrated as he hadn’t had much water that day. He made it to the kitchen and apparently (I did not witness) fell to the floor and had a seizure where his body convulsed. He was aware it had happened. Again this weekend he was playing Destiny all morning, took a break and turned it on that afternoon. He didn’t even start playing the game at that point other than loading it to see his “ship”. He looked at me and said he felt dizzy, a second later his held fell to the side, his eyes rolled back and he started to slightly convulse. I think it lasted under 30 secs. He keeps telling me that it’s because of the video games and he refuses to see a doctor. Can this really be from video games!?!?

    • jsolodar says:

      Yes, it really can! I tested Destiny last year and it failed the seizure safety analysis test. A quick look at some Watch Dogs trailers suggests it could easily contain seizure-inducing images, too. The effects are cumulative, so the seizure just after turning on Destiny in the afternoon is related to the time he spent playing in the morning.

      If he sees a doctor, the doctor will most likely tell him not to play video games if they give him seizures–which your husband probably doesn’t want to hear. There are some standard strategies for minimizing the chances of a seizure. There are also blue glasses that are very helpful.


  4. I wonder if I may be experiencing this. When I played Rainbow Road, a course on Mario Kart 64, when I was 12/13, I would often get sleepy, feel weird, and have difficulty focusing. I remember summer camp once where we had an after dark activity with a strobe light: I became very zonked out and felt weird.

    I watched a YouTube video of Rainbow Road on Mario Kart 64 again, not long after getting up from a full night’s sleep, and I got a strange feeling in my stomach. Even a couple hours after watching it I still have the strange feeling.

    • jsolodar says:

      Certainly possible. I just tested a couple of clips and didn’t find seizure triggers, but you might have been viewing from really close up or seeing “footage” that I wasn’t testing.


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