Pocket Monsters: The Show that makes Japanese Kids and Adults Sick
Don't sit too close to the TV. An admonishment given by parents to
children for years, but one that Japanese parents are now taking more
seriously. While the matter is still under study by Japanese authorities,
details concerning a television broadcast that triggered epileptic-like
fits among more than 700 Japanese viewers, most notably children, are
now coming to light.
The incident occurred in December during a prime-time episode of an
animated show called "Pokemon" (Pocket Monsters.) Near the end of the
30-minute program, a cartoon "vaccine bomb" was thrown at a computer
virus representation. The bomb exploded onscreen in a bright red flash,
followed by about 5 seconds of intensely bright alternating red and blue
lights. Within minutes, young viewers experienced such symptoms as
seizures, nausea, headaches, and dizziness. Even some adults were affected.
Medical authorities in Japan speculate that the illnesses may have
been prompted by a combination of high strobe rate and picture brightness,
stimulation from the color red, and proximity to the TV.
English researchers have shown that the strobing "trigger rate" is about
18 frames per second, but can vary among individuals. The 18-fps frequency
seems to affect certain electrical signals produced by the brain. As a
result, British broadcasters are prohibited from strobing about 3 fps,
but a corresponding U.S. regulation has not been found.
In general, Japanese children sit closer o the TV than their American
counterparts. Average viewing distance in Japan is 3 to 7 feet; in the
United States, it is 7 to 12 feet. At close range, the TV image covers
more of each retina. Farther away, the screen not only occupies less of
the field of vision, but the TV's alternating scanning lines are not visible.
"Pokemon" may appear on U.S. television this fall, but the producers pledge
that they will avoid any video pyrotechnics. Researchers also note that a
well-lit room can minimize the effects of brightness and strobing.
Original Article by S.A.B. featured on page 29 of the July 1998 issue of Popular Science
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Last Updated: 26/05/99