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Photosensitive epilepsy and video games

Debate in Parliament on photosensitive epilepsy 1 July 2008

Summary by Young Epilepsy’s Information and Education Service 3 July 2008

On 1 July 2008, John Penrose MP raised the subject of computer game regulation in Parliament after one of his constituents had approached him following her son’s seizure that occurred whilst playing a computer game.

The Minister for Weston-super-Mare voiced his concern that there appeared to be a double standard in the present regulations. At present TV broadcasters are regulated and required to check everything that is put out to ensure the risk of photosensitive epilepsy is reduced. The computer game industry has only a voluntary code requiring warnings to be put either on the packaging or on the opening screen prior to the game appearing.

Whilst some game makers have applied similar screening to their games that is used for the television industry, He believes that anything less than proper regulation is likely to be unsatisfactory and inadequate and that if regulation is right for TV broadcasters, it should be right for games manufacturers.

He pointed out that people are not always aware they have photosensitive epilepsy and it only becomes apparent when they have a seizure when exposed to certain triggers, such as flashing or flickering lights, colours or patterns. As a result of existing regulations applying to TV broadcasters, TV triggered instances of photosensitive epilepsy are comparatively rare in this country.

The MP stated that the problem is that the risk of developing photosensitive epilepsy, and having an attack triggered, is at its height between the ages of seven and nineteen. The risk is approximately 1.1 incidents per 100,000 people in the population per year, but for people between the ages of seven and nineteen, it is more than five times higher.

Margaret Hodge, the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport responded that she felt the games publishers were a responsible industry. She said that mainly, warnings are offered in instruction manuals but she took John Penrose’s point that for those with latent photosensitivity, those warnings will not be enough. She will have to consider Whether new legislation or codes of conduct are a proportionate response. It must be recognised that we are talking about a very small number of people.

She informed him that she would like to discuss the issue with the trade body that represents the industry (ELSPA).

John Penrose voiced his concern that we will end up with a double standard and that there will be regulation for one part of an industry and a voluntary code for another.

For full details of the debate, please click here.

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