Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Photosensitive Seizure Warnings

This one’s not necessarily about something “cool,” but my mention of Aladdin’s Castle (a chain of video game arcades from my youth), brought to mind the time I witnessed a photosensitive seizure first-hand, and I thought you might find that story interesting.

First, what IS a photosensitive seizure? A good summary appears on the Microsoft game studios website (http://www.microsoft.com/games/home/photosensitive_warning.aspx). Basically, flashing light patterns, like for example, a strobe, can sort of derail your brain, and cause a seizure in people who have no history of such experiences. The thing about the seizure warning, it’s mostly a CYA for the game developer, because as I’m about to relate, with or without that warning, we never would have had an inkling of what was going to happen.

So this incident was back in the day, must have been 1988 or 89, before such warnings were included as frequently on video games. My brother and I had rallied a group of friends for a birthday party at the local Aladdin’s Castle video arcade. I don’t think it was actually anybody’s birthday, we tended to just take advantage of the fact that the birthday package, for about $10 a head, gave your group free run of the place after-hours. It was fantastic!

Things went fine for the first hour or so. I can’t remember what I was playing (it would have either been Timber or New Zealand Story, aka Kiwi Kraze) when one of my friends came running up to me saying something was wrong with my brother. I'm almost positive he was playing a game called Alien Syndrome when it happened. I ran over, and saw him on the floor, convulsing. I yelled at the attendant to call an ambulance, and then just kneeled down next to him in a panic, having no idea what was wrong, or why he was on the floor convulsing. His lips turned blue, I remember that distinctly, and even now I’m getting a cold feeling in my stomach thinking back to it.

One of my friends started doing CPR, and though later in the ambulance, I heard one of the emergency crew tell the other that that had been the wrong thing to do because his heart was fine, I will never forget how that guy stepped up and DID something, when I was just frozen. His name was Stephen, and that may have been one of the last times I saw him, because we moved to the east coast shortly thereafter.

I also remember in the ambulance ride to the hospital, the medics asking my brother simple questions like how old he was and so forth, and wanting to answer for him, because he was still pretty out of it, and slow to answer. My mother met us at the hospital, she’d been off getting us something for dinner, and this was before cell phones, so she didn’t know until she got back to the arcade what had happened.

My brother was fine. Such an incident had never happened prior to that, and has never happened since. There is absolutely no history in our family of epilepsy or seizures. When I would tell people what happened, they would assume it had happened to him before, but it was totally random. They say that playing games with strobes in a dark environment can trigger it, and back then, arcades were dark, beautifully cave-ish environments, not like the ones at the mall today.

Years later, when the MMO I was playing added a photosensitive seizure warning to the documentation (Asheron’s Call: Dark Majesty – mainly for simulated environmental lightning effects), a friend pointed it out to me and thought it was amusing. People just don’t envision something like that happening, but it does, and I will never forget how scary it was as a kid, who had no experience with that, and no idea what to do. Anyway, just thought I'd share since it's a very rare thing to have seen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can relate I use to have seizures when i was little but they weren't compulsive When i got my first playstation I've been playing since i was 8 I am now 20 never had an episode until i played World of Warcraft and Halo 2 when i was 16-17 years of age was my first I had such a violent seizure I had to give up the one hobby i enjoyed gaming but i still paly but just the ones that won't give an episode like the sims and text script based games as long as they don't have a strobe light effect it'll be fine