I’ll admit that I never used to put much stock in those disclaimers. I used to think it was just the fine print that companies added to avert a lawsuit on the off-chance that someone had an episode while playing. After all, why would someone with epilepsy risk playing a video game? Isn’t that like someone with a shellfish allergy ordering dinner at a seafood restaurant?
I’ve quickly learned that those are simplistic — and inaccurate — views.
Since November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, I decided to do some research about the disease, seizures in general and video games. It’s been an educational experience. Here’s a little of what I learned …
• Don’t disregard the disclaimer: It’s there for a good reason, and not just to guard against lawsuits. About one in 100 people in the U.S. will have a seizure at some point in their lives, although it usually takes multiple incidents to lead to an epilepsy diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Still, one in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy, most commonly among children and the elderly, according to the Institutes of Medicine. The result: Nearly 3 million Americans and 50 million people worldwide living with symptoms, particularly seizures, according to Epilepsy Foundation Heart of Wisconsin.
With so many people at risk for seizures, it’s important to be aware of triggers. Movies, TV, video games and lighting in general can all pose triggers, which include….
• Bright lights, flashing lights: Researchers know that these can cause seizures in people with epilepsy. That’s why you see warnings about strobe lights on haunted houses and other venues or events.
Those same concepts apply to video games. Dazzling magic spells and rapid-fire, blinking special effects are cool to watch, but they can be hazardous for players who have seizures.
So, does that mean that video games are off limits to epileptics? Not at all.
• Some games are safe: The key is playing the right game. It’s tricky, especially considering that so many games today are as explosive and dynamic as blockbuster movies, and triggers vary from person to person. Still, it’s possible.
A strategy game, for instance, where players look at a map and make decisions is probably safer than the latest RPG, which is ripe for flashy magic and colorful cutscenes. Not every RPG is risky, and not every strategy game is ideal — again, it can depend on the person. That’s why it helps to consult some online resources or even other gamers.
• Use resources and offer to help: There are sources on the web to help locate good games for people with seizures. Videogameseizures.org is one example. It has report cards on many games and offers links for more information.
Here’s another idea: If you are a gamer and have a friend who plays but has seizures, offer to help find safe games. Watch cutscenes or game footage online and warn your friend about the game. It’s not impossible to spot a risky game; I can think of several in my library that I wouldn’t recommend to people with epilepsy. If it flashes, sparkles, blinks or strobes, it’s probably not the best for players with seizures.
• Know the symptoms: I’ll confess that I used to think seizures were like what I saw on TV, that the person would have violent convulsions and require restraint by several people.
That’s not necessarily true.
While seizures can cause uncontrolled movement, they can also cause confusion, staring, psychic symptoms and loss of consciousness or awareness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes the symptoms are so mild that the sufferer or those surrounding the person don’t even know it’s a seizure.
For instance, some people with epilepsy will stare blankly for a few seconds. Who hasn’t had an out-of-sorts moment in their lifetime? I’ve had several, but that doesn’t mean I have epilepsy. That’s where consulting with a doctor and keeping tabs on other symptoms come into play.
After reading about seizures, I realize that I didn’t know anything about epilepsy. I’m still a novice, but I’m glad to have learned something about the disease.
I’m also happy to know that even those who have seizures can still be gamers. I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on the fun.
Heather Stanek is the digital editor for The Reporter. Contact her at (920) 907-7909or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @Heather Stanek1.
How to help
If a person is suffering from a seizure with convulsions:
• Keep calm and reassure onlookers.
• Don’t restrain the person. Instead, clear the area, removing anything hard or sharp.
• Time the seizure.
• Loosen ties or anything around the neck that might affect breathing.
• Put something soft and flat, like a folded jacket, under the head.
• Try to gently move the person on to a side. Don’t try to open the mouth; it’s a myth that a people can swallow their tongues during a seizure. In fact, trying to hold the tongue down is more dangerous because it can lead to jaw and teeth injuries.
• Only start artificial respiration if the person has not started breathing again after the seizure.
• Stay with the person until the seizure ends.
• Be friendly and reassuring as the sufferer returns to consciousness.
• Offer to call a cab, friend or relative to help the person get home.
If a person is not convulsing:
• Watch the person and explain to onlookers that it is a seizure. Other people sometimes think the sufferer is drunk or on drugs.
• Speak calmly, quietly and in a friendly way.
• Gently guide the person away from danger, such as streets, steps and appliances. Resist the urge to grab the person; only do it if there is immediate danger. The sufferer may be startled and lash out or struggle.
• Stay until the sufferer reaches full consciousness.
• Offer to call a cab, relative or friend if the sufferer needs help getting home.