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Home / Technology / The ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ reviewer had a seizure, and then worked to make the game safer

The ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ reviewer had a seizure, and then worked to make the game safer

“It took me a long time to restore speech and autonomy,” Ruppert said. “I could not walk the rest of the night.”

Some games and other forms of visual entertainment that involve flashing lights or flickering the screen are preceded by warnings for those who are sensitive to such effects. But “Cyberpunk 2077”

; lacked such a warning and did not include a way to turn off potential attack-triggering scenes, and gained international media attention after Ruppert wrote an article about her experience of playing just before the game’s launch.

“Cyberpunk 2077’s” developer, CD Projekt Red, responded to the article with a statement on Twitter in which they thanked Ruppert for having raised the issue and noted that the company “worked to add a separate warning to the game, apart from the existing one” and EULA [end user licensing agreement]And that it would implement a “more permanent solution” as soon as possible. The company would do so with Rupert’s help after reading her article.

“I honestly did not expect anyone to read it because I have written about epilepsy so many times, and I’m pretty used to it being ignored,” Ruppert said.

In an email to The Washington Post, CD Project Red’s North American communications manager, Stephanie Bayer, said the developers made suggestions from Ruppert and “adjusted the entire sequence” to no longer be a trigger.

On the day of release, a warning of seizure was added. A day later, the most problematic scenes, called “brain dance” sequences in the game, were adjusted via a software update to be safe for epileptic and light-sensitive players. These changes were implemented thanks to Rupert’s article and subsequent consultation with developer CD Projekt Red, work she did on a pro bono basis and for which she did not receive compensation.

“For those who have been waiting anxiously for” Cyberpunk 2077, “I did not want the expectation to erupt because of [an] supervision, ”said Ruppert about the motivation for volunteering.

“We certainly took this seriously, and we thanked her for correcting this,” Bayer wrote in an email to The Post.

Epilepsy, a neurological disorder in which abnormal electrical activity in the brain can induce seizures, impair the senses and lead to loss of consciousness, affects one in 26 Americans at some point in their lives, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. A small percentage (around three percent) of these are light sensitive, which means that light with certain intensities or certain visual patterns can trigger a seizure. The condition may be present at birth, but people can develop epilepsy during their lifetime, as Ruppert did. It affects individuals differently – Ruppert lists the heat and stress that some of her other seizures trigger, for example – and seizures can vary in severity, depending on the circumstances.

It made everyone realize, “Oh, this is a question we have to pay attention to,” French said.

The video game industry previously conducted research on this topic. Since 1991, several lawsuits have been filed against video game producers claiming that a game had triggered a seizure. And yet (apart from rare, very specific exceptions, such as a video game used in a federal environment), there is no regulation that requires the game to be tested for seizure-triggered content. Nor is it a legal requirement to administer a content alert that could cause seizures. Whether individual platforms, publishers and developers implement guidelines for designing, testing or warning of light sensitivity triggers is entirely voluntary.

A blanket statement about seizure triggers at the start of a game has become the norm for many video games. Ubisoft, for example, adds a warning in most video games and standardized tests to remove seizure-triggering scenes from 2008. The company used such measures after a 10-year-old had a seizure while playing “Rayman Raving Rabbids.” Ubisoft stated at the time that their testing “showed that no images posed a high risk of photosensitive epilepsy.”

“Cyberpunk 2077”, during the pre-release period for journalists, had no warnings other than a brief mention in the end-user license agreement (a primary legal document that most players will not read).

This is not the first time Ruppert, 33, experienced a seizure while playing a video game. In fact, she said she experienced another seizure while playing “Cyberpunk 2077”, but not as seriously as the first one.

“It’s certainly not every flashing light,” French said of potential seizure triggers. “There has to be a certain frequency, a certain brightness. It is much more likely to trigger a seizure if it covers your entire field of vision. ”

To remove the biggest seizure triggers in “Cyberpunk 2077”, CD Projekt Red, based in Warsaw, spent several days before the launch and talked to Ruppert, especially via text messages and e-mail. To keep her safe, the developers sent her new animations to fix the “brain dance” sequences, and put her in touch with designers to discuss which other areas of the game need attention. Ruppert took her own safety precautions while playing, including having her husband around at all times and taking medication to reduce the risk.

“[CD Projekt Red] was very quick to be like: ‘Let’s set something up this week. Let’s send you some things, let’s make some round tables and let’s talk [Epilepsy Foundation,’]”said Ruppert.” They were very proactive with it. “

Shortly after publishing his article about cramps in “Cyberpunk 2077”, Ruppert was harassed online, especially by dissatisfied players who expressed fear that the article’s attention would lead CD Projekt Red to change their “artistic vision” of the video game. The harassment was so severe that Ruppert received a flashing GIF, sent specifically to induce a seizure. In one case, a sender disguised such a GIF as a message of support.

I do not think people understand [these safety changes are] as simple as dimming a color with just a few shades, ”said Ruppert. “Or with the ‘brain dance’ sequence, we changed it from flicker to a transient animation instead, which conveyed the same result, but a little differently.”

Although that sequence has changed, with lights flashing slower, safe for epileptic and light-sensitive players, there are several other potentially harmful sequences, according to Ruppert, including a bug in the main menu and other cinematic scenes in the game.

Ruppert emphasized that an attack warning at the start of the game is not enough, as many players may overlook it or ignore it. “What I hope for is an exchange option,” she said. “[Independent game developers] tends to be at the forefront of this, where there are options that are specifically meant to turn off certain animation sequences. “

According to French, the Epilepsy Foundation’s main concern is primarily against individuals who play games who do not yet know they have epilepsy. Being able to turn off features, especially if someone starts to feel dizzy or confused, can prevent a seizure. French also noted that players can close one eye to keep a seizure at bay.

While the Epilepsy Foundation does not have the knowledge to consult at the technical level, its management hopes to help CD Project Red and other game developers with a broader approach.

“Our goal is to educate and persuade designers and sellers of these products of the value, first and foremost, the danger to people with photosensitive epilepsy, and then the value of informing the public about them before a seizure occurs,” said Epilepsy Foundation Director Allison Nichol.

Video game publishers have a certification process that developers must pass in order to market their games, but availability is not always a standardized step.

“I can not speak for CD Project Red specifically, but it has been my general experience that such issues come from a lack of awareness,” said Ian Hamilton, an accessibility consultant who has worked on games such as “The Last of Us Part II” and “Destiny. 2, ”sa. “Although it is difficult to make demands on games, I think there are a few things that can reasonably be expected in most games, given that light sensitivity is one of them.”

There are tools to help developers, filmmakers, and creators identify and remove content-triggering content from their work, including the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer (FPA). This program automatically identifies harmful photosensitive content and flags it for removal.

“For broad adoption – especially with small independent developers – both the economy and the awareness of trigger testing need to shift,” Hamilton said. “Developers of game engines [the coding scaffolding that most games are built around] is in a really huge position to help with this. ”

A representative of CD Projekt Red said that the company will join forces with organizations in the new year to make “Cyberpunk 2077” safer. These partnerships have not been announced publicly, but the Epilepsy Foundation confirmed that talks will continue with the developer to bring more permanent solutions to the game.

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