Symptoms & Diagnosis
seizure is a burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can originate in a single location and involve a relatively small area (partial seizures), or they may involve the entire brain (generalized seizures). Video games and other visual stimuli can trigger both types. Because partial seizures often are not recognized, it's important to know what the symptoms might be--most seizures don't resemble what you expect they look like. 

Some seizures are so subtle that they can easily go unnoticed by the person experiencing them or by anyone nearby. While the seizures themselves may not be noticed, the after-effects include disabilities that linger for days:  difficulties with mood, focus, memory, learning, sleep, sensory perception, and other functions.  


Depending on the areas affected and the sequence in which they become involved, symptoms vary considerably. For each individual, however, the symptoms tend to stay fairly consistent. For information about the many types of seizures and their symptoms, see:

Epilepsy Foundation
Types of Seizures
: All About Epilepsy & Seizures

Vulnerability to seizures caused by flickering light is the most common form of reflex epilepsy (when seizures are provoked by a specific stimulus). The condition is often referred to as photosensitive epilepsy, although photosensitivity actually means the brain's abnormal response to a flashing strobe light. People with reflex seizures caused by video games may not be affected by the flashing of an electronic screen but instead by the rapid movements and bright colors. To read about visually triggered seizures, see:

Epilepsy Foundation: 
About Photosensitive Epilepsy
Center on Media and Child Health:  "Ask the Mediatrician"
Epilepsy Action:  Photosensitive Epilepsy


Diagnosing a seizure condition can be very challenging. Many conditions can produce symptoms that resemble epileptic seizures but are not caused by abnormal firing of neurons. In addition, seizure symptoms can be quite varied and the way each person experiences them is different.

To diagnose seizures a medical history is taken and an EEG (electroencephalogram) is performed. The EEG can pick up abnormalities in the normal electrical rhythms of the brain, via electrodes are attached to the scalp. However, EEGs are not always conclusive. A normal EEG does not rule out a seizure disorder. Seizure activity that occurs in parts of the brain that are particularly distant from the scalp may not be detected by electrodes on the scalp. 

To detect photosensitivity, clinicians typically rely on EEG readings during photic stimulation (rapid pulses of flashing light). Not all people who are sensitive to visual stimuli respond to flashes of light. Some have an abnormal reaction to certain patterns or to modulating colors. Although few EEG labs in the U.S. offer it, testing for pattern sensitivity is another way to detect vulnerability to video game seizures. The best way to test for abnormal brain response to video games is to play a video game during the EEG session.  

To read more about how seizures are diagnosed, see:

Epilepsy Foundation: