2 of these 4 Xbox games don’t cause seizures!

Halo: The Master Chief Collection was the only game of the recommended Xbox titles that poses a seizure risk.

First-person shooter game Halo: The Master Chief Collection was one of the recommended Xbox titles with a higher seizure risk.

Half of the Xbox-exclusive games selected by GamesBeat for its 2014 holiday gaming guide appear to be free of seizure-provoking visuals. There were just 4 Xbox games in the buying guide, so we’re talking about exactly 2 games that meet seizure safety guidelines. I don’t know how representative this sample is of the universe of Xbox-exclusive titles.

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved isn’t a game in the conventional sense; it’s a rhythm game played by the motion of the player’s arms, enabled by the motion-sensing Kinect controller. There are no battle scenes that might set off visually risky explosions, or races with crashes and fast-moving scenery. Instead, when players “conduct” to the beat of music selections, all sorts of colored patterns are created and set in motion on the screen. It’s visually interesting yet not overstimulating. There’s a lot of black space separating the smaller colorful elements.

Sunset Overdrive, released by Microsoft Studios, is a third-person shooter game, a relatively low risk genre, seizure-wise. Because these games tell a story from the perspective of an observer of the action, scenes are shown from a wide angle. This means that, unlike first-person shooters, any bright, explosive flashes and rapidly swirling debris don’t dominate the field of view. The larger the screen area of patterns flashing images, the higher the likelihood is that those visual effects might provoke a seizure.

The same Halo image at the top of this post is shown here in the upper left of a screen capture from the seizure safety testing application. That image occurs at the start of a stretch of flashing red that goes well beyond safety guidelines for photosensitive seizure prevention.

The Halo image at the start of this post is shown here in the upper left of a screen from the seizure safety testing application. The image occurs in a stretch of gunfire with flash levels exceeding seizure safety guidelines, as shown by the red line on the graph.

So it’s not surprising that first-person shooter Halo: The Master Chief Collection contains seizure-provoking images. Its predecessor Halo 4, which I tested 2 years ago along with other FPS games, failed the flash and pattern analyzer test, too.

Not so surprising, either, that the racing game Forza Horizon 2 violated seizure safety guidelines. As I’ve previously found, the quick cuts, fast-moving scenery, and dramatic collisions featured in the racing genre result in games that exceed or approach seizure safety guidelines. The original version of the game, which I tested nearly a year ago, contained a lot of scenes that flirted with safety guidelines limits, but I didn’t find actual violations.

Summing up GamesBeat’s 2014 holiday gift guide

This completes my seizure risk assessment of games chosen for GamesBeat’s 2014 holiday gift guide. In recent posts I’ve reported on the risk of seizures in the guide’s recommended multiplatform games and games exclusive to Nintendo, Sony, and PCs. After testing all 43 games in the GamesBeat 2014 holiday guide, it appears that 26 titles–60 percent–contain image sequences capable of provoking seizures.

Nintendo 3DS Wii U Sony Vita PS3 PS4 PC Xbox 360 Xbox One multiplatform

Just 40 percent of games recommended in the GamesBeat holiday guide complied with seizure safety guidelines.

These are supposed to be the industry’s best games–how often is higher seizure risk is associated with the worst games? Or the not-especially-noteworthy? If I had unlimited time and testing resources, we could find out. Consumers deserve to see reviewers rate games for seizure risk, not just for graphics quality, speed/performance, modes of play, characters’ personalities, levels of difficulty, modes of play, frame rate, music, and so on.

Disclaimers

Please remember that your results could vary. Games that pass the seizure guidelines test could have seizure-provoking sequences that I was unable to locate. I don’t do this testing while actually playing these video games and I don’t see all the scenes. Instead I work with video clips available online, some of which are official marketing and gameplay trailers and cutscenes; others are gameplay sessions posted by reviewers or fans. I do not test fans’ gameplay clips if the original game was modified with other software.

In addition, the seizure threshold of individuals is affected by a number of factors including illness, hunger, stress, fatigue, length of play, and menstrual cycle, among others. So a game that seems OK may subsequently trigger a seizure under different conditions.

Testing methodology 

I run downloaded gameplay clips, cinematic clips, and promotional trailers for each game and submit the sequences to the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer. The FPA is widely used by producers and networks in the UK—including by the BBC—to protect most (97 percent) but not all people with photosensitive epilepsy viewing broadcast TV. It examines video sequences for very specific and measurable image qualities that researchers have found can trigger seizures:

  • rapidly alternating light and dark images (flash/flicker)
  • certain stripes and geometric patterns with high contrast
  • large areas of very bright (“saturated”) red
  • problem images take up more than one fourth of the screen

If the first clip I test of a game fails the safety test, I move on to test the next game. I typically test at least 4 or 5 additional clips of a game if no violations are found initially. If I have a high level of suspicion due to the game genre and/or overall look of the sequences that there might be unsafe “footage” that I haven’t yet found, I may test a lot more clips.

 


More top 2014 Sony-only games: 5 of 8 unsafe

Here’s another batch of exclusive-to-Sony game titles that I tested for seizure safety. These eight games were chosen by Inside Gaming Daily as the year’s best Playstation-only games. Of the eight, five contain images that could provoke seizures in viewers or players.

The test results:

Inside Gaming Daily chose these as the year's best Playstation 4 2014 titles.

Inside Gaming Daily chose these as the year’s best Playstation 4 2014 titles.

An example of totally unnecessary seizure-provoking material

Scenes of the playing field and the stands in MLB 14: The Show don’t contain seizure-provoking sequences. But the alternating blue and red stars that occasionally scroll across the screen, between plays, for a fraction of a second are a problem. They create enough flash effect and saturated red to provoke seizures. The game could be seizure-safe game just by omitting these graphics sequences.

Nothing in the game play itself would provoke a seizure.

Nothing in the visual presentation of the game play itself would provoke a seizure.

Eliminating these graphics sequences would place the game within safety guidelines for visually-induced seizures.

But these fast-moving graphics sequences that appear between plays are not in compliance with safety guidelines for preventing visually-induced seizures.

...the alternating colors create a flash effect that can trigger seizures.

Even though the blue and red graphic design appears for less than a second…

Even though the entire sequence of blue and red stars crosses the screen in less than a second...

…the alternating colors create a flash effect and include a large screen area of saturated red. This sequence, which appears periodically throughout the game, fails the seizure safety test on both counts.

Testing Methodology

To test the games I submit downloaded gameplay clips and promotional trailers to the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer. The FPA is widely used by producers and networks in the UK—including by the BBC—to ensure seizure safety of all material on broadcast TV. It examines video sequences for very specific and measurable image qualities that researchers have found can trigger seizures:

  • rapidly alternating light and dark images (flash/flicker)
  • certain stripes and geometric patterns with high contrast
  • large areas of very bright (“saturated”) red
  • problem images take up more than one fourth of the screen

Sequences submitted for analysis are video clips available online, some of which are official marketing and gameplay trailers; others are gameplay sessions posted by reviewers or fans. I do not test fans’ sequences from games that were modified with other software.

I typically test at least 4 or 5 clips of a game if no safety violations are found in the first clip. If I have a high level of suspicion due to the game genre and/or overall look of the sequences that there might be unsafe “footage” that I haven’t yet found, I may test a lot more clips. Then there are games like Entwined–as soon as I started viewing the first clip, I strongly suspected there would be seizure-provoking sequences.

Entwined0

Entwined is beautifully depicted on the screen…

…but unfortunately it has many fast-moving patterns and a lot of bright flashing, too.

Disclaimer

Your results could vary. Games I’ve listed as safe could have seizure-provoking sequences that I was unable to locate. Furthermore, the seizure threshold of individuals is affected by a number of factors including illness, hunger, stress, fatigue, and the player’s menstrual cycle, among others. So a game that seems OK the first time it’s played may trigger a seizure under different conditions.


Sony’s top 2014 games: 5 of 9 test as unsafe

Games (and films) in animé art style typically contain many instances of unsafe image sequences. This screen shot is from Fairy Fencer F.

Games (and films) in animé art style typically contain many instances of unsafe image sequences. This screen shot is from Fairy Fencer F.

Roughly half of the year’s most eagerly anticipated made-for-Sony video games could set off a seizure. I tested the seizure safety of the nine Sony-only titles selected last month by GamesBeat for its “early holiday gaming guide.” Five games failed the safety test, indicating that their graphics exceed safety guidelines for flash, intense color, and/or patterns known to trigger seizures.

Watch out for animé graphics 

In this selection of games exclusive to Sony platforms, those made for the PS3 were more likely to trigger seizures than those for the PS4 or Vita–probably because the PS3 games in this batch of titles were overwhelmingly illustrated in animé style graphics. Animé is the animation style used in the infamous Pokémon cartoon incident in Japan, when hundreds of Japanese children viewing the cartoon experienced seizure symptoms simultaneously and went to emergency rooms. 

Here are the results for the nine Sony games:

Sony chart fixed

 

 

Testing methodology 

I run downloaded gameplay clips and promotional trailers for each game and submitted the sequences to the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer. The FPA is widely used by producers and networks in the UK—including by the BBC—to ensure seizure safety of all material on broadcast TV. It examines video sequences for very specific and measurable image qualities that researchers have found can trigger seizures:

  • rapidly alternating light and dark images (flash/flicker)
  • certain stripes and geometric patterns with high contrast
  • large areas of very bright (“saturated”) red
  • problem images take up more than one fourth of the screen
This screen from Fairy Fencer F from a sequence that exceeded safety guidelines for screen area is completely filled with saturated red.

This completely red screen from a sequence in Fairy Fencer F failed the safety test due to excessive saturated red color.

Sequences submitted for analysis are video clips available online, some of which are official marketing and gameplay trailers; others are gameplay sessions posted by reviewers or fans. I do not test fans’ sequences from games that were modified with other software.

If the first clip I test of a game fails the safety test, I note that and move on to test the next game. I typically test at least 4 or 5 additional clips of a game if no safety violations are found initially. If I have a high level of suspicion due to the game genre and/or overall look of the sequences that there might be unsafe “footage” that I haven’t yet found, I may test a lot more clips. For example, knowing that the fast-moving views in racing games may be seizure-inducing, I tested more than a dozen Driveclub clips.

Similarly, the art style and pace in other games look highly unlikely to pose a seizure risk–I tested only a couple of clips from LittleBigPlanet 3.

Disclaimer

Your results could vary. Games I’ve listed as safe could have seizure-provoking sequences that I was unable to locate. Furthermore, the seizure threshold of individuals is affected by a number of factors including illness, hunger, stress, fatigue, and the player’s menstrual cycle, among others. So a game that seems OK the first time it’s played may trigger a seizure under different conditions.

I’ve already tested what GamesBeat editors consider the year’s biggest games for multiple platforms. In upcoming posts I’ll share test results on their choices for PC-based games and for games exclusively built for Nintendo and Microsoft gaming platforms.


Game forums blame pilot, natch

gamers blame players for video game seizuresWhile product liability suits don’t generally get a lot of respect, litigation is often an effective way to pressure manufacturers to make their products safer for consumers. In my last post I was wondering what the game forums would have to say about the lawsuit recently filed by John Ryan McLaughlin, a former F-18 pilot who has permanently lost his flight status as a result of a seizure he experienced while playing Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls IV.

A thick skin is required just to lurk on these forums because the level of hostility can be so high when posters comment on a perceived threat to a game or game company. Some of these game forums are populated by folks paid to post comments supportive of the company/industry, but I suspect most of the people who post their disdain for those with photosensitive epilepsy are just—how should I say this—lacking in social graces and emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet. As expected, talk of McLaughlin’s legal action quickly brought out contemptuous and often ill-informed postings.

Here are a few examples of what I found in the forums, somewhat sanitized. Most are plug-and-play responses that have been trotted out already in other discussions about video games provoking seizures:

  • The pilot should be grateful to the game for exposing a hidden condition he didn’t know he had. Especially since the consequences would likely be quite dire if a seizure had happened in the cockpit.
  • It’s probably a coincidence that the seizure happened while he was playing.
  • The poster has epilepsy and has never had a game seizure. So obviously there’s something fishy about the story.
  • If the game hadn’t triggered a seizure, something else would have.
  • Maybe his sensitivity to all that screen flashing developed from all the years of flying F-18s, and the video game just triggered a seizure.  (This one is my personal favorite.)
It all leaves me kind of speechless…

Navy pilot loses flight status after video game seizure

photosensitive pilot has first seizure from video gameA former Navy pilot permanently lost his flight status after experiencing a seizure while playing the game Oblivion: The Elder Scrolls IV on a Sony Playstation 3. John Ryan McLaughlin, an F-18 pilot based in San Diego, also broke a bone in the incident. McLaughlin has filed suit against the game manufacturer, Bethesda Softworks, and Zenimax Media, its corporate parent, as well as Sony. Read the story here.

Note that pilots are very, very carefully screened for possible seizure disorders–using photic stimulation, which really can’t replicate the visual experience of a video game. I have to wonder how the game forums will respond to this…usually these commenters love to blame the parents of children who have video game seizures, claiming everyone should have anticipated it would happen. This very sobering case involves someone highly trained to defend our country, who’s been tested up and down to detect even the hint of a seizure problem, who now can’t use his flight training anymore. Ever. Are the game forums going to blame a guy who’s been certified seizure-free for not paying attention to a warning in the game’s user manual? Or maybe find his parents responsible?

Read more about lawsuits filed by consumers who experienced seizures from video games.