23 April 2004
Professor warns that Nintendo games may cause epileptic seizures in photosensitive children
PROFESSOR Graham Harding, former Director of the Neurosciences Research Institute at Aston University and world expert on photosensitive epilepsy has discovered that four Nintendo computer games contain flashing repetitive light sequences which may induce epileptic seizures in photosensitive children. He now calls for warnings to be printed on the packaging of these games and for safety guidelines to be brought in to the video game industry similar to those used in the broadcasting industry.
Mega Man X, Super Mario Sunshine, Metroid Prime and Mario Kart: Double Dash all contain light patterns which could cause a seizure in approximately one in 4,000 people but are still on sale in Britain and throughout the world. People aged between 7 and twenty are five times more at risk than the rest of the population, and three quarters of patients will remain photosensitive for life.
Seizures occur by the bright flashes and dramatic patterns found in video games causing abnormal signals to be sent to the brain from the retina in the eye. This causes a sudden, temporary interruption of some or all of the functions of the nerve cells in the brain causing involuntary body movements or involuntary oral responses with jerking of the limbs and possible incontinence.
"If a person has photosensitive epilepsy, which is diagnosed after one seizure, they need to avoid any flickering light situation such as discotheques and certain theme park rides. While watching television or playing video games they must sit more than two metres away from the screen in a well lit room and should not approach the set," explains Professor Harding.
"If people take these precautions and still experience seizures then drug therapy may be administered. Sudden death from epilepsy is a known fact and cannot be ruled out, but it has not yet occurred in the case of a patient suffering from photosensitive epilepsy to my knowledge."
In a BBC3 documentary called 'Outrageous Fortunes - Nintendo' presenter Libby Potter travels around the world to find out more about the Japanese company. The programme examines evidence that Nintendo may have known that some of its games could cause epileptic seizures in some children, and chose not to remove the problem sections from the games. In court the company claimed it had no way of knowing which games might be more inclined to trigger seizures in susceptible children, but a whistleblower tells a very different story. The programme includes an interview with Professor Graham Harding at the Clinical Neuro-physiology Unit, Aston University.
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Notes to editors:
The BBC3 Programme 'Outrageous Fortunes - Nintendo' was broadcast at 9 o'clock on Monday 19 April 2004.
Professor Graham Harding
Professor Graham Harding has studied photosensitive epilepsy since 1964 and has conducted more research into the condition at Aston University than anywhere else worldwide. He developed the Harding Broadcast Flash and Pattern Analyser* which is now used as the industry standard in Britain to ensure that no broadcasting material contains light sequences that may induce photosensitive epileptic seizures. The machine takes the broadcasting material and tests whether it complies with ITC (Independent Television Commission)** guidelines which restrict repetitive patterns, saturated red (continuous red flashes) and light flashes. He has consulted widely for the ITC, BBC and the BACC (Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre) on this subject. He has provided invaluable help in implementing the ITC guidelines on flashing images and regular patterns as well as drafting Japanese guidelines. In December 1997 a children's Pokemon cartoon episode in Japan produced 685 admissions to hospital. 560 cases were shown to have had proved seizures, triggered by four seconds of alternating saturated red and blue light used in the programme. Of those patients, 76 percent had no previous history of seizures. Professor Harding was frequently used as an expert by media for this story.
Photosensitive epilepsy is the name given to that form of epilepsy in which seizures are provoked by flickering light or intermittent light stimulation and visual patterns encountered in everyday life. Both natural and artificial light sources may precipitate seizures. It is often assumed that everybody with epilepsy is photosensitive, but only 5 per cent of people with epilepsy are. This sensitivity occurs at a rate of approximately 1:4000 of the population. The onset of photosensitive epilepsy occurs below the age of 20 years and the condition appears to be most common between the ages of 9 and 15. Females are more affected by photosensitivity than males. There is evidence, too, of a genetic factor in this condition. Various types of seizure may be induced by flickering light, but a tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure is certainly the most frequent type induced by television, perhaps preceded by myoclonic jerking (brief jerking of the limbs).
*** Photosensitive epilepsy is diagnosed using an EEG after a person has had a suspected fit.
*More information can be found at www.hardingfpa.co.uk
** Now Ofcom
***Information obtained from Epilepsy Action: www.epilepsy.org.uk