Game Informer writer Liana Rupert published a PSA detailing her experience playing CD Projekt Red’s new blockbuster title. Rupert said she has seizures, and experienced a serious one while playing Cyberpunk 2077 — specifically triggered from a prominent feature in the game, “braindance.” Braindance, in the world of Cyerpunk 2077, is essentially virtual reality, but expanded; people in the game use this to relive actual experiences. Rupert said it requires the player character to “suit up” with a headset.
The experience is initiated with a blinking light sequence, she said, describing it as “much like the actual device neurologists use in real life to trigger a seizure when they need to trigger one for diagnosis purposes.” In the instances of the player character using braindance, blue and red lights flash in a rapid pattern for a few seconds before the entire screen flickers to white. The similarity to the intermittent photic stimulation that can trigger seizures is likely coincidental, though that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a danger to players with epilepsy.
Rupert also detailed other potential triggers in Cyberpunk 2077 in the story, which you should read over on Game Informer.
CD Projekt Red includes a “Seizure Warning” in its Cyberpunk 2077 end user license agreement, which reads:
Cyberpunk 2077 may contain flashing lights and images, which may induce epileptic seizures. If you or anyone in your household has an epileptic condition, please consult your doctor before playing Cyberpunk 2077. If you experience dizziness, altered vision, eye or muscle twitches, loss of awareness, disorientation, any involuntary movement, or convulsions while playing, immediately discontinue use and consult your doctor.
As Rupert mentioned in her story, accessibility options have been increasingly common in video games. Certain games have modes to adjust for colorblindness and hearing accessibility. Options for blind or low-vision players, and settings for players with arachnophobia, are often available, too. Rupert pointed out some PC options that may assist in lessening Cyberpunk 2077’s epilepsy triggers, but at present there are no in-game options. Polygon has reached out to CD Projekt Red for more information.
Seizure warnings began popping up on video game boxes in the early 1990s, following news stories about seizures triggered by video games. Another widely publicized instance was with a 1997 episode of the Pokémon anime, which reportedly caused seizures and disorientation in children watching the show. (As a Vice story details, the Pokémon incident is more complex than what it seems surface-level. A researcher found that it was not actually thousands of children that experienced it — more like a few hundred. The symptoms following appeared to be related to “mass hysteria,” with real symptoms, but not epilepsy.)
In particular, Ian Hamilton, an accessibility specialist from the U.K., told Polygon that, following these instances, the International Standards Organization began publishing guidelines regarding seizure risk — determining “what degree of flashing and patterns constitutes a reasonable level of risk.”
“While no game can ever be ‘epilepsy safe,’ sticking to that standard means that the bulk of seizure risk can be avoided,” Hamilton said.
Another seizure case, in 2007, inspired the House of Commons to consider binding guidelines to ensure games adhere to that “reasonable level of risk.” The house declined to enact any legislation, however.
Rupert’s story has sparked an uptick in discussion of accessibility in games — particularly, why epileptic triggers have been widely accepted as unavoidable in the industry. Like Hamilton said, a game can’t necessarily be “epilepsy safe,” but there is certainly work to be done to make video games more accessible to more people. For a lot of players, a flashing light is likely something that we give a passing glance to, but for people at risk for seizures, it could be a dangerous trigger. Limiting strobing light effects — or providing ways for players to limit them — ensures a safer experience.
Hamilton pointed out that Cyberpunk 2077’s flashing lights don’t make the developer “a villain,” nor does it do the same for any developer that includes a trigger in its game. Instead, Hamilton frames the epileptic trigger as an area of accessibility that is largely overlooked by people that don’t experience these issues, and a blind spot that the industry should no longer ignore.
“Despite the potential harm, which hopefully can be reduced by them patching quickly, CDPR really aren’t villains of the piece,” Hamilton said. “They’re just representative of a broader lack of awareness of the impact that design decisions can have. And from that perspective there should be some positives to come from it; and a game of Cyberpunk’s prominence being involved makes this a learning moment not just for CDPR but for the industry in general. There’s a strong precedent of lasting positive change coming from incidents like this.”
Some companies are making more aggressive efforts to make their games more accessible. Microsoft, for instance, requires its Xbox Game Studios titles to pass the “Harding FPA product safety testing” without failure. The Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer is software that determines whether a series of flashing lights or patterns may be at risk of causing seizures.
In that document, Microsoft notes that these flashing patterns may cause problems for “a wide range of players,” in addition to players sensitive to seizure triggers, like people “who are autistic, prone to migraines, or have sensory processing disorder.”
“The issues are usually easily solvable,” Hamilton said. “Games where the experience is fundamentally about flickering and flashing are extremely rare. For example the braindance chair in Cyberpunk — rather than the LEDs flickering into life, they could simply fade up.”