What do video game seizures look like?

To see an example of a mild seizure caused by a video game, click anywhere on the image.

Probably the biggest reason there’s so little awareness of video game seizures is that many seizures aren’t noticed or identified.

Some seizures are events you can’t miss:  a person falls to the ground, loses consciousness, and has a lot of uncontrolled body movements. But only certain types of seizures look like that. Visible signs and symptoms differ in each person, depending on the precise areas of the brain affected, but repeated seizures in the same person tend to look similar.

Watch this clip of a brief video game seizure recorded during a video EEG performed in a hospital. Some seizures are more subtle than this one. Although here the patient’s upper body jerks backward, she doesn’t lose her balance or stop looking at the game on the computer screen. When the seizure is over, she may notice that her character died or that something else went wrong in the game while she was not responding normally. If consciousness is impaired by the seizure, she might not recall the seizure itself. [Note: I recommend reading the piece this clip appears in from the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston.]

When a person plays a video game all alone or facing away from others in the room, there may be no opportunity for others to observe quiet staring, eye flutter, changes in facial expression, or small movements that may be the only outward signs of a seizure. The person who has the seizure, whose consciousness may be altered by it, may have no recollection at all of the seizure and therefore may have no idea that anything unusual happened. Studies have shown that even people who know they have a seizure condition may have no idea that they’ve just had one, unless they find themselves injured or in a different position/place than they remember.  How many people are walking around in a post-seizure state of problems with memory, mood, sleep, appetite, concentration, and more–without even realizing it? No way to know, and a frightening thought.

Update, 5/15/12 – Watch a brief interview with a neurologist describing subtle seizures.