Janet St. James reports
It's a fun, fast fusion of lights and rock-n-roll sound; but lately, bloggers have begun buzzing about a potentially grave side of the game Guitar Hero.
"My 16-year old son just had a seizure" wrote one person about their son playing the popular game.
"Warning," and "no more ever" wrote two others.
"It's the change of scenery, the change in color [and] how quickly the movements are made in the video games," said Dr. Angel Hernandez, of Cook Children's in Fort Worth. "What we think is happening is the faster the activity is the higher the risk of them having a seizure."
Dr. Hernandez is an expert in pediatric seizures. He said the phenomenon isn't unique to Guitar Hero.
In 1997, more than 600 Japanese children suffered convulsions after watching the bright flashing lights of a "Pokemon" cartoon. While it was then thought to be an urban legend, it isn't now.
Experts say video games don't cause epilepsy, but the strobe effects in them can provoke a seizure in youngsters who are sensitive to light.
In fact, Cook Children's uses video games in its overnight neurology monitoring unit. The games can trigger a brain response that youngsters don't expect.
"I just thought they were to keep us busy," said Kim Ponce, a patient. "It's giving me a workout instead of lying [around] all day."
"We see that not infrequently after having had several seizures while playing video games, and that's how we find out that they have a tendency toward having epilepsy," Dr. Hernandez said.
The doctor said photosensitive epilepsy can be a one-time occurrence or a regular response to flickering lights.
The Epilepsy Foundation estimates about 100,000 children might be susceptible and may not know it. Most children, according to experts, grow out of the syndrome or become less sensitive to flickering lights.
Because of the growing number of reported side effects, some games now have warnings when they are turned on.
In New York, a pending bill would require retailers to post alerts about the potential of video game induced seizures.
To reduce the risk, the Epilepsy Foundation recommends several tips:
FOR TV VIEWING:
- Watch TV in a well-lit room
- Reduce the screen's brightness
- Keep as far back from the screen as possible
- Use the remote control to change channels
- Avoid watching TV for long periods of time
- Wear polarized sunglasses while viewing TV to reduce the glare
FOR VIDEO GAMES:
- Sit at least two feet away from the screen in a well-lit room.
- Reduce the screen's brightness.
- Don't let children play video games if they are tired.
- Take frequent breaks and look away from the screen every once in a while.
- Cover one eye while playing and regularly change which eye is covered.
- Turn the game off if strange or unusual feelings develop.
FOR COMPUTER SCREENS:
- Use a flicker-free monitor (LCD display or flat screen).
- Use a monitor glare guard.
- Wear non-glare glasses to reduce glare from the screen.
- Take frequent breaks from tasks involving the computer.
FOR STRONG ENVIRONMENTAL IGHTS:
- Cover one eye (either one) with one hand until the stimulus is over.
- Closing both eyes or turning your eyes away from the stimulus will not be effective.
The guidelines are particularly important for people who are sensitive to light, but the suggestions are valid for everybody, say experts.
"One of the things I tell the families to do is - if your child is very tired or they've been up late - not to play video games the next day," Dr. Hernandez said.
But, Dr. Hernandez added that if kids follow the rules, video games can be fun and safe for everyone.