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02.26.2013 , 12:06 PM | #1
SWTOR, flashy lights, and photosensitive epilepsy
My Girlfriend and I are gamers. We love video games, and we love SWTOR. I’ve been playing since early beta and am the leader of an active end game guild on Jedi Covenant. We both play almost every day and from the beginning have been involved in end game content. But starting with TFB, we started having a very real and scary problem. My girlfriend has photosensitive epilepsy, and I’m sure that most of you have no idea what that is. You may have noticed a disclaimer when loading some video games that flashing lights has been known to causes seizures and then you promptly disregarded it because for most people this does not apply to you. I did the same thing. Unfortunately, it does apply to my girlfriend who has photosensitive epilepsy (PE). PE is a sensitivity to repeating patterns, and most commonly occurs when you view bright strobing lights; for example, the worst possible condition would be a strobe light where it quickly strobes between fully dark and bright light. The brain has difficulty processing this information and begins to, for lack of a better explanation, short circuit. After only a few seconds someone with PE can go from totally fine to having a seizure and it can sometimes be difficult to recognize it in time or to avoid it even after you recognize it.

So what does this have to do with SWTOR? Well, months back when TFB first came out our guild was playing through TFB for the first time and when clearing the trash on the way to the 3rd “Tron” boss “Operator IX”, we quickly discovered that the data cores had an electricity attack that had a bright strobing effect. My GF, who plays right next to me, told me that she might not be able to do the operation and that her stomach hurt but wasn’t communicating very clearly with me (confusion and difficultly thinking and communicating is part of the symtoms). Being the ops leader at the time I was a bit distracted and not yet being fully familiar with PE, I told her to try to take her character out of the room with the “flashy lights” and just wait for us to clear the room and she could join us after. I underestimated the effects the strobing had already had on her. At this point she was already suffering from Vertigo (basically your brain becomes confused and starts to perceive motion which does not exist, typically a severe and prolonged spinning or shaking sensation far beyond normal dizziness. I’ve experienced it once while trying to sleep after the death of my father and it SUCKED), which for her is the second stage of PE just before she starts to have seizers’. We cleared the room and then tried to do the same thing for the second data core room and that’s when things got really bad… Needless to say, the operation came to an abrupt halt.

So that was that, my GF could not play TFB after the second boss. Once we tried to sub another tank for just that third fight and she joined us for the second incarnation of Kephess, but he has multiple strobe effects, too. 1) the minor lightning tether linking him to the pillars (which by itself probably wouldn’t be a problem and 2) the debuff the tank gets (her main is a tank) where they get a bright flashy strobe on them and then have to run into another bright flashy object to clear it. Expecting possible trouble, we caught this one early enough and called for a /stuck to end the fight and she was removed from the operation for her safety.

For the next several months she was left out and behind as the rest of her guildmates including myself worked through HM TFB and got their gear. Many a Tue and Thursday nights I spent with the guild running operations into HM TFB and she would go off and solo queue for WZs or grind an alt. She felt left out and I would often hear about it and it wore on both of us. But I was hopeful that new content would come out soon and she would be able to jump right back into the mix. When S&V came out on PTS I was right there. I copied my characters over and got our guild together to go through SM S&V to learn the fights. At first, all was well. The lands are largely desert areas and nothing seemed excessively flashy. Until….. the very last boss, the Dread Master Styrak who has a very large and bright purple strobing force lightning attack. My heart deflated…. It would be yet another operation that my GF would not be able to participate in. So, with a deep sigh of disappointment, I realized that my GF has no access to either lvl 55 operation (TFB is being upgraded to lvl 55) and therefore no access to end game PvE content. I knew on the spot that I couldn’t spend another three months playing the operation without her and leaving her behind when she wanted to play, too, but couldn’t. It would mean the end of the game for her…. And that means, it would likely be the end of the game for me.

I make this post because I’m not sure how many people are aware of this problem. And I’m not sure how many other people are affected by it, as well. How many other potential long term customers were pushed away by the content? Was Bioware even aware that their content was having this effect on some of their players? And if so, would they be willing to do something about it? Certainly I wouldn’t expect them to remove content and animations from everyone due to its effects on what is probably a relatively small population. But perhaps there could be some variable solution such as a flag you could set in user options that 1) changed the game to black and white, reducing the contrast in brightness or 2) remove certain flashy effects like those mentioned and other effects you probably never noticed like the blue flashing lights on the cop cars in cademimu and make them constant lights instead of strobing. Most people could leave this off while those with PE could use it to allow them to continue to play.

My cynical side says that there is no way this will ever happen. It would cost money and use resources to fix this problem that Bioware would rather use for other things; there probably aren’t enough people with PE to justify the fix. It would be more cost effective to just lose a few dozen subscriptions and focus on fixing bugs and new content for the rest of the community. But maybe, just maybe, after posting this, more people come out and discuss similar problems and maybe it’s not as small a problem as I think it is. And maybe, just maybe, Bioware will want to be in the forefront and recognize this problem and be a leader in the industry by doing something about it. And maybe my girlfriend and I can continue the hobby we love and play video games together. After all, it’s how we first met, in a warzone on Alderaan. So, here goes nothing…
Olicc / Noah
"The Rahzurr Legacy"
Guild Leader
Dominus Nihil