Nintendo, Activision, Ubisoft preview unsafe games at E3

The image shown in the upper left of this screen shot, from a flashing sequence in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., fails the seizure safety test. The graph on the right shows the brightness of the flash exceeding the safe limit.

The image shown in the upper left of this screenshot, from Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., is one frame in a flashing sequence in  that fails the seizure safety test. The graph on the right shows the brightness of the flash exceeding the safe limit.

The 2014 E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) just wrapped up in Los Angeles with all the major game publishers previewing their upcoming releases. The big companies publishing these games have mammoth budgets and should be able to fund some quality control that supports the interest of public health. Apparently that line item is still not getting the focus it deserves.

Last week listed the 10 most anticipated games to be announced at E3. How many of them might trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy?

Destiny, a massively multiplayer first-person shooter game to be released in September 2014, is an entirely new game. It fails the safety test, too.

Destiny, a massively multiplayer first-person shooter game to be released in September, fails the safety test, too. Unlike the Nintendo game, it’s a completely new product. Both screen shots are taken from the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer, which tests images for seizure safety.

So far, 4 of them tested positive for seizure-inducing sequences–meaning they failed the Harding automated seizure safety test. This isn’t a final result because not all have enough “footage” available online for me to test adequately. Some may ultimately seem safe.

These tested as unsafe:

Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo)

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Activision)

Destiny (Activision)

Tom Clancy’s The Division (Ubisoft)

In other words, the patterns, flashes, and/or red intensity of onscreen images produce the exact type of visual stimulation–that’s been carefully defined by researchers–that places viewers at risk of photosensitive seizures. People with a genetic predisposition for these seizures are vulnerable, whether or not they have ever experienced a seizure before, and whether they even know they have this genetic trait.

Nintendo’s Mario games have been triggering seizures for more than 20 years. Reports began surfacing in 1992 about seizures from Super Mario. As a result, a study on video game seizures published in 1999 used Super Mario World to test subjects known to be photosensitive. And a lawsuit was filed in 2001 by parents of a boy who had a seizure while playing Super Mario Kart.

But what about new games such as Destiny? A whole new game provides the perfect opportunity to create an entirely novel visual experience. Why not architect the whole thing keeping in mind the seizure hazard that persists in many games?

In sum, some of the video game industry’s biggest players are continuing to ignore safety guidelines, placing the public at unnecessary risk. I don’t know where the myth originated that games produced nowadays don’t produce seizures.

2 Comments on “Nintendo, Activision, Ubisoft preview unsafe games at E3”

  1. Pamela Strong says:

    My son’s been having cluster seizures since fourth grade, he was about two and a half months shy of 10 years old. Every test he’s ever had showed normal (and there have been dozens) except for one sleep EEG that showed just a very little abnormal activity when he was maybe 11 or 12. His Boston Childrens Hospital neurologist kept telling me he certainly could be “faking” and all his other neurologist doctor friends down the hallway felt sure that he definitely was faking (in spite of the fact that this had gone on for years and having been witnessed, multiple times, by his parents, various EMTs, nurses and doctors, including one doctor in the ER who told us his daughter had epilepsy–surely he’d know what a ‘real’ seizure looked like).
    He has a new neurologist now, still at Boston Childrens (in Lexington), and she feels perhaps he’s outgrown his seizure ‘condition’ now that he’s 17 and recent tests again are normal. Now we’re attempting to ween him off his medication and at low doses he’s having tremors in his foot, leg and hands. It’s scary. He has a job, his driver’s license and wants to buy a car and drive himself.
    He’s had 3 neurologists over the years (the first one was at UMass in Worcester) and none of them have ever asked about his video game playing habits. They’ve known he’s light sensitive and sometimes this has triggered headaches and migraines, still, no concern about the games.
    His dad and I talked about video games triggering seizures only briefly, a long time ago; we didn’t really take it seriously–at least not as far as our kid was concerned. Not an issue. And since learned doctors (at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world-or so we’re told) specializing in children’s neurology made no mention of it, not even one single statement or querry, we dismissed it. I don’t know what’s made me think of it again, just today, in fact, but I’m glad I did. It’s led me to do a little online research and I didn’t have to look far before finding this website. Now I see that reflex seizures are a real issue; why it’s got a clinical handle and everything: testing, research, published findings, real life accounts and commentary, lawsuits– the whole shabang.
    Now I’m going to look much more deeply into this and take it much more seriously as this could actually be my son’s problem. Yes, I am very surprised. Kinda miffed too. The crap my child has been through with seizures, doctors, medication, school officials and special ed. staff,
    physical, emotional, and mental health, learning challenges and obstacles–and more–quite possibly all unnecessary? I’m angry enough at just the possibility of it. I really don’t know how
    livid I might be if I find out it really was avoidable all these years.
    Thank you for your website and sharing some of the most recent information with us. I appreciate it so much, thank you.

    • jsolodar says:

      I am so sorry to read about your experience, and I know exactly what it feels like. It’s an outrage that a lot of this serious disability and damage to family life is probably entirely avoidable. The challenges of changing this situation are beyond formidable–the medical establishment is not aware of/skeptical about this very real public health problem, the children are unable (possibly unwilling) to identify and articulate what happens to them when they get into a game trance, and the message of caution for parents is tough to spread/sell when many of the electronic entertainment corporations that market games are just different divisions of the same entities that we tune into for our news. Most neurologists are unwilling to question the EEGs and are quick to dismiss parents’ concerns. Then there are the educators who can’t be more supportive because they need documentation/validation from the student’s doctor in order to incorporate disabilities into IEPs.

      Thank you for writing. I’d like to hear how things go for you and your son as you look into this further…if you want to see more about our struggles with doctors, feel free to check out


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