When a story in the news involves the use of offensive language, major TV networks edit out the provocative words in their broadcasts. Yet for some reason, when putting together stories about visually induced seizures, producers don’t always take reasonable precautions about the triggering images in their own footage. Consider the absurdity: by broadcasting the problem image sequences to illustrate a story, the networks needlessly expose viewers to the same seizure triggers that are the subject of the report.
In 2007 a promotional video was shown to the press to launch the 2012 London Olympics logo. When it was included in TV reports in the UK, viewers reported seizures from a segment of the animation that included rapidly pulsating bright colors. An AP story about the logo causing seizures rebroadcast the same problem sequence! Regulations in the UK were already in place to prevent seizure-inducing images to be shown on TV, so this should not have happened. In the U.S. there is no regulation of broadcast TV that would prevent the airing of seizure-inducing images, and the AP clip is still available online.
I’ve been guilty of perpetuating the cycle, too, by providing links to these TV news stories. On a hunch and with this pet peeve in mind, I just reviewed the media coverage page on my website www.videogameseizures.org, and ran all of the listed clips through the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer, an application that tests for video images containing photosensitivity triggers. I’ve now placed seizure warnings next to three TV news clips (including the AP Olympics logo story) about video game- and TV-induced seizures.
I do want video games to be the focus in this blog, but I feel the need to comment on this Internet sensation. As of this morning there have been 72 million views on YouTube of 13-year-old Rebecca Black’s debut music video “Friday.” Lots of people have opinions about her voice, her age, her friends, the production values, and the song itself. I watched it from a different perspective, noticing that about two minutes into the video there’s a 20-second sequence of pretty rapid flashing. I had a hunch it could provoke seizures in people sensitive to flash and flicker.
So I ran the video through the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer, an analysis tool used regularly by the BBC and other broadcast networks in the UK and Japan to ensure their programs comply with internationally ratified image specifications for seizure safety. According to the Flash Pattern Analyzer’s assessment, the level of luminance flash during that segment is in the dangerous zone, capable of provoking seizures. So have there been any reports of people having seizures watching “Friday”? None that I know of. Probably most people have viewed it in the default YouTube small screen, which would make it much less likely to cause a problem. A primary reason why video games pose a bigger seizure threat is that the games are usually viewed up close, thus taking over most of the individual’s field of vision.
Kudos to the UK’s Epilepsy Action organization for drawing attention to the recently released music video from Kanye West, “All of the Lights,” which was causing seizures in people who viewed it on YouTube. Thanks to their efforts, the video is now preceded by a seizure warning. We need to initiate this sort of advocacy in the US as well. I encourage the epilepsy advocacy organizations here to become active in the effort to protect the public from seizure-provoking images.