Cyberpunk 2077 – not as available as it should be (Photo: CD Projekt Red)
Cyberpunk 2077 may currently get a flash because it is dangerous for people with epilepsy, but it is not the only game with similar problems.
During the eight years of development, Project Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 CD was dragged into its contradictions. Because today, the team is under criticism for his attitude towards the rights of transsexuals, for his overwhelming practices and also for the constantly postponed exit of the game itself.
The latter condition was caused by the way one of its central mechanisms may have provoked seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. These sequences, called brain dancing, force you to interact with the memories of other characters by connecting to a special central computer and then being bombarded with flashing LEDs. Which frankly seems rather unpleasant, whether or not you have a neurological disorder that makes you particularly vulnerable.
Over the past few days, this has been discussed on Twitter and many people said that they no longer felt safe to buy an action role-playing game and that it seemed pointless to have something that regularly equates to a large-scale epilepsy test.
While it is gratifying that Project Red CD responded with a health warning at the beginning of the game and wants to work towards a permanent solution, the most important positive aspect is that it triggered a much-needed conversation. Because cyberpunk isn’t the only one responsible for this mistake.
The games are full of flashing lights. From large explicit flashes to barely perceptible flashes, barely perceptible with the naked eye, there are few triggers that contain no stimuli. For the past ten years, my partner and I have had to learn the hard way.
In context, it is a light-sensitive form of epilepsy and there are about 2 million other epileptic patients worldwide. The consequences of this condition are not the same for everyone, but in her case it means that she should not look at images that are too bright or exposed to continuous white light flashes for too long. If it’s red, blue or green, it’s usually a little more tolerant for them, but they can always send them to a big boy in bad circumstances.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order – imagine a life without Star Wars (Photo: EA).
So we have to be very careful about the kind of entertainment we consume together. Star Wars films are clearly out of the question, music concerts are a risky business, and I’ll have to close my eyes to West End musicals if they’re particularly diligent about their visual effects. There are also some video games that are simply not available to us as a couple.
So we’re both fans of survival horror movies and she can’t watch Dead Space or Alien Isolation (two of my favorite movies I’ll never be able to share with her). Meanwhile, the battle in Kingdom Hearts 3 – which she looked forward to like a hardcore Disney nerd – turned out to be a frantic whirlwind of energy explosions, laser beams and fireworks that unfolded in every corner of the screen. She would have tried to look through her fingers, but even that was overwhelming and we finally had to give up, to her great disappointment.
The other thing she was really looking forward to is the recently released Spider-Man: Miles Morales. But because the hero of the title depends on electrical attacks, he too has been banished from the No battery. Sometimes it’s not the whole game that’s invisible, but small fragments here and there. In this case she can look away and I can give rough sound descriptions while trying to beat the boss, but it seems she didn’t hit.
None of this suggests that we expect developers to serve only us. On the contrary, my partner is incredibly resilient and doesn’t like to make a fuss about her disability. In fact, she usually tries to gain power through experiences that can aggravate her epilepsy, because she is determined not to let it be determined by her life.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is not a Disney party that all fans can enjoy (picture: Enix Square).
So if we decide to take a conscious risk and play something that might cause a crisis, we do so with caution: We take regular breaks, stick to the display options and weigh the parts she needs to see and the parts she can afford to leave out. If I have that chance, I’ll also look at the game to see if it’s a distant chance to play together or if it’s an absolute loss.
Since we are prepared to make those concessions and so leave, it wouldn’t hurt if the industry were to join us halfway through. From her point of view, she can’t understand why developers insist on using light effects in situations where it really isn’t necessary. Of course they can be useful from time to time to create drama, but often they just look like an overloaded stool to create tension or whip sequences. The one who creates an unnecessary medical barrier at the entrance.
I mean, what good is Bioshock if every other room is clogged up with broken lights? And will people enjoy Zelda’s Zelda The breath of wild animals will be even weaker if their humiliated weapons don’t explode in a blinding glow at impact?
After a while you start to know these triggers yourself. Even when my partner isn’t here, I realize how disgusting little things like police sirens and mouth valves can be when they shine long on your face. For example, when I slipped into Cuphead, I not only realized how Cuphead’s chaotic steps could be caused, but I also noticed that every time a grenade makes contact with the enemy, it flashes for a nanosecond.
If you’ve played MDHR Studio’s masterpiece, Bullet of Hell, you’ll find that it’s quite common, so harmless animations will repeat themselves quite often in the end! Although it seemed to be just an innocent feedback tool for everyone else, it made the whole game inaccessible to us.
Cuphead – another uncomfortable order (Photo: Studio MDHR)
That brings me to the core of this article: How can developers cater more to people with photosensitive epilepsy? To start with, they could follow the example of cyberpunk and make sure their products carry a proper warning label. However, the problem is that most titles contain all these vague warnings and are not very useful.
They never give you a clear idea of the clarity of the contents, nor of the fact that they are just isolated pockets to look out for. This gives the impression that almost all existing names are completely unsuitable, although they are in fact quite manageable if one knows what to expect.
The best alternative would be to implement a permanent CD Project Red solution, which is currently under preparation. This will probably be some kind of setting that allows you to turn off the LED wristbands, and if so, it’s a big step in the right direction.
Read more: Health
Earlier this year, Part Two (The Last of Us, Part Two) began with a full range of options that benefit players with motor control, hearing and vision problems. It was an unprecedented step and will hopefully become the industry standard for a new generation of consoles. However, there are still some gaps to be filled.
In particular, there was no switch-off function every two-hour hurricane that dominated the third part of the daily campaign. Of course, blind colour adjustments could help reduce the intensity of the light here, but in hindsight it seems a fairly simple solution, and hopefully it can now be displayed on maps.
In short, I am optimistic that the cyberpunk debate will pave the way for a future in which video games will be much more epileptic. In the end, so many people who were previously cut off from the environment will finally be able to enjoy it. And it will help people like me to share more of our free time with those we love.
The Last of Us 2 – it has won awards for its availability, but remains a problem in terms of epilepsy (Figure: Sony).
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