25 years ago, at exactly 6:51 pm on December 16, 1997, hundreds of children across Japan had a seizure. A total of 685 children, including 310 boys and 375 girls, were taken to the hospital by ambulance. Within two days, 12,000 children reported symptoms of illness. The cause of this sudden and mass outbreak is an unlikely culprit: an episode in the Pokémon animated series.
That episode was Dennō Senshi Porygon (Electric Soldier Porygon), which was the 38th installment in the first season of the Pokémon animated series. Twenty minutes after the animation begins, an explosion occurs in the film, illustrated by an animation technique known as paka paka, which emits alternating red and blue flashing lights at a frequency of 12Hz. in six seconds. Immediately, hundreds of children had seizures caused by photosensitivity, also known as photosensitive epilepsy.
The point is, this is only a small fraction, but not all, of hospital admissions.
Pokémon Shock has affected about 12,000 people
Takuya Sato, 10, said: “At the end of the performance, there was an explosion and I had to close my eyes because of the huge yellow light that was like a camera flash.”
A 15-year-old girl from Nagoya said: “When I saw the blue and red lights flashing on the screen, I felt a tension in my body. I can’t remember what happened after that.”
This phenomenon, dubbed “Pokémon Shock” by the Japanese media, has become a big news not only in the country but also around the world. The cartoon producers were questioned by police, while the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare held an emergency meeting. Share price of Nintendo, the company behind the Pokémon game, immediately fell 3.2%.
For health professionals, the number of 12,000 children in need of medical care means nothing. That show was watched by 4.6 million households. About 5,000 people have a photosensitive epilepsy, the rate is 0.02%. But the number of children reporting symptoms seems disproportionate.
That mystery lasted for four years, until it caught the attention of Benjamin Radford, a researcher at the U.S. Committee on Inquiry into Skepticism.
“The investigation has stalled, the mystery disappears without explanation,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could solve this case.”
Together with Robert Bartholomew, a medical sociologist, he began to examine the timeline of events and discovered an important detail. “What people overlook is that it didn’t happen overnight, it went on for days and the contagion happened in schools and in the mass media,” he said.
The photo records the MSI phenomenon in history
Radford and Bartholomew’s finding was that most of the children affected fell ill after hearing about the harm the episode brought. Although the December 16th episode of the cartoon did indeed cause hundreds of children to experience symptoms of light-sensitive epilepsy, something else happened in the cases. next. The next day, in the playground and classroom, on the news and on the breakfast table, it’s all about Pokémon Shock. At that point, many children begin to feel unwell. This is exacerbated when some news programs actually replay the impactful clip. But this time around, according to Radford, the reported symptoms (headache, dizziness, vomiting) were “more characteristic of mass-social illness (MSI) than photosensitive epilepsy.” .
MSI, also known as mass mental illness (MPI), or more colloquially, mass hysteria, is a well-documented phenomenon with many notable cases in history. . Take, for example, the medieval dance epidemic to the outbreak of uncontrollable laughter in Tanzania in 1962.
“MSI is complex and often misunderstood, but essentially, it is when anxiety manifests as physical symptoms that can be spread through social contact. It is often found in closed social units such as factories and schools, where there is a strong social hierarchy. The symptoms were real – the victims weren’t faking it or making it up – but the causes were misattributed,” Radford said. This condition is thought to most closely resemble the reverse placebo effect. That is, people can make themselves sick just by One thought.
The Pokémon Shock event isn’t the only one caused by a TV show. In May 2006, Padre António Vieira High School in Lisbon reported 22 cases of an unknown and rapidly spreading virus in the school hall. Students complain of shortness of breath, rash, dizziness, and fainting. Schools closed as news of the virus spread. Before long, it affected more than 300 students at 15 schools in Portugal, many of which had to close.
Doctors were baffled and could find no evidence of the virus, other than the student’s symptoms. Dr Mario Almeida, a doctor at the time, said: “I don’t know of any disease that is so selective that it only attacks students.”
Then a strange truth began to emerge. Just before the outbreak of the epidemic, the popular teen drama Morangos com Açúcar (roughly translated as Sugary Strawberries) aired a plot in which a terrible disease attacks a school. In the film, when performing an experiment with a virus, a character accidentally releases it and the students are immediately knocked down, the disease spreads mercilessly throughout the fictional school named Colegio Da Barra.
Back in the real world, with the school year coming to an end and many students stressed with exams, the story simply had a stronger impact on younger audiences than expected.
A scene from the documentary Ghostwatch
However, it is not only students who are susceptible to the disease. On October 31, 1992, a Halloween broadcast caused panic across the UK.
At that time, the British news agency broadcast the program Ghostwatch live. The content of the show is about the journey to decipher supernatural phenomena in a low-income neighborhood in North London.
90 minutes long, the show starts slowly and gradually increases the tension with a series of chilling episodes such as floating balloons, unusual sounds, moving furniture, cat meows… The climax… is the scene. The whole program crew suddenly ran away. from the scene, panicking to announce that they had unknowingly released the evil spirit across England.
Soon after, more than 30,000 people in a state of fear or anger attacked the British news agency’s switchboard. The next day’s newspapers heavily criticized the program. Six cases of children aged 10-14 years with symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) were documented.
Although the production team later clarified that Ghostwatch was written and filmed weeks in advance, its documentary style and reality TV-like presentation led many viewers to believe the events of the series. movie. TV events are real.
In fact, instances of Ghostwatch or Pokémon Shock may not exactly meet textbook definitions of MSI, as they are not associated with people developing symptoms. But, from Radford’s point of view, they are the same.
“Strictly speaking, the panic is not at MSI, but they are related. That is, there is an element of social contagion, where fear is legitimized and compounded in the context of uncertainty. Many people say they have seen and experienced all sorts of strange phenomena that simply didn’t happen,” he said.
Most people assume they would react differently under such circumstances. But if you look back at the cases in history, it is easy to see that the people affected are not stupid, gullible or crazy. That is, any of us can react the same way. In other words, we are all capable of succumbing to MSI. So keep that in mind the next time you decide what you want to watch.
Refer to TheGuardian
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