Cyberpunk 2077 could trigger seizures in photosensitive players
Game Informer Associate Editor Liana Ruppert wrote yesterday about her experience with a grand mal seizure while playing a pre-release version of the game. The seizure was triggered by the game's short introductory cutscene for the "braindance" interface. That scene features a device flashing bright, screen-filling red and white lights at the player in an increasing cadence before sending them into a virtual world to explore another character's memories.
With no way to skip this cutscene, Ruppert recommends that photosensitive players "look away completely or close their eyes" to avoid triggering a seizure whenever going into a braindance, which they're required to do at multiple points in the game's story.
Ruppert also notes how certain characters and objects inside and outside of braindances are rendered with a "flickering pale blue glitch effect" that could set off some players' photosensitivity. Bar and club scenes also often feature high-contrast flashing neon lights that could represent a "danger zone" for photosensitive players, Ruppert writes.
"We are alarmed and saddened that a game reviewer had a seizure triggered by Cyberpunk 2077, before it was even launched," UK-based charity Epilepsy Action said in a statement. "The game features rapidly blinking lights and other animations that could cause seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy.
"These features are unsafe and should have been avoided to make the game more accessible. With huge demand and excitement building for its release, it may pose a serious risk to people with photosensitive epilepsy. The developers CD Projekt RED should consider how they can update the game to make it safer. A disclaimer warning at the beginning isn't enough."Advertisement
CD Projekt Red has yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars Technica.
A well-known problem
About 2.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of epilepsy, according to an Epilepsy Foundation article from 2014. About 100,000 of those have some level of photosensitivity to strobing light effects, representing one person in every 3,000 to 4,000.
But incidence studies in other countries suggest there may be as many as 800,000 photosensitive Americans who have simply not been exposed to a trigger that could set off a seizure, with higher potential concentrations in those ages 7 to 19.
The particular risk of seizures caused by video games has been well-known for decades. In 1993, a 14-year-old died from complications of a seizure suffered while playing Super Mario World, leading to sensationalized international headlines about the overall safety of games. And in 1997, an episode of the Pokémon anime that featured strobing light effects led to nearly 700 Japanese children being hospitalized with seizure-related problems.
Incidents like these prompted Nintendo to begin including a warning about the potential dangers of strobe effects to the Health and Safety notices included with its games (Sony and Microsoft have similar warnings for their consoles). Nintendo has faced a number of lawsuits over the seizure-inducing effects of its games, including one it settled out of court in 2004.
Many game-makers also put prominent epilepsy warnings in their manuals or on-screen when a game is loading. A handful of game-makers also follow Game Accessibility Guidelines recommendations to avoid specific patterns of flashing lights or include optional toggles to remove or reduce flashing effects in the game. Though these modes can never be called 100-percent "epilepsy safe," they can help reduce the incidence of problems among photosensitive players.
Without such specific options (or even warnings) in Cyberpunk 2077, players are left to fend for themselves as far as reducing their seizure risk. Ruppert recommends turning down the screen brightness or using existing colorblind graphics options to make the game more comfortable.