Scientists Are Trying To Work Out Why You Weirdos Invert Your Controls

Scientists Are Trying To Work Out Why You Weirdos Invert Your Controls
Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi, Getty Images
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After The Guardian ran a story earlier this year on gamers inverting their controls, a group of scientists — who have shifted their studies into online stuff during Covid — are now going to do a little research and try to find out why some people play video games the normal way while others try and play them backwards.

(I am half-joking here, years spent playing flight sims as a kid have irrevocably fucked me up when it comes to which games I play inverted and which I don’t)

As The Guardian report, Dr Jennifer Corbett and Dr Jaap Munneke from the Visual Perception and Attention Lab at Brunel University, London, are currently asking for volunteers to take part in experiments “running remote behavioural and psychophysical experiments” designed to examine how “an individual’s visual perceptual abilities may affect how they interact with both real and virtual environments”.

In other words, whether there’s something going on upstairs that determines why people prefer inverted controls, and whether that same tendency is reflected elsewhere in their lives.

“Most research focuses on how people pay attention to individual objects, but humans can’t really process more than a few details at once” Corbett says. “There’s a gaping hole in our knowledge regarding how our visual perception is heavily dependent on the rest of this vast majority of sensory information. Being able to predict how a person will interact within a given environment or context can bring about monumental advancements in technology.”

While this all sounds terribly abstract, some of the real-world applications Corbett suggests this research could benefit are stuff like “safety-critical tasks like detecting weapons in baggage scans or tumours in X-rays.”

Comments

  • I don’t get inverted people. I want to look up…so why would I move the stick down ????.
    What are you? Lightning McQueen? Go left to go right and all that

    • Because we chose to live our lives as aeroplanes, don’t look down on us….or up on us as we like to say.

      Brrrrrrrrmmmmmm!

    • To my knowledge, those who favour invert controls typically handle a game’s character as they would a ‘vehicle’ so it’s similar to how you control an airplane, i.e. they are ‘controlling the avatar’. Those who favour non-invert controls handle the character as if they are in full possession of the avatar, i.e. how they would react.

      I could be wrong, but that was explained to me by my invert preferring mate and I suppose it made sense at the time.

    • Us old folks who played games in the long-ago distant times before fancy controllers were invented only had joysticks available. There were a lot of flight-sim type games back then. When you’re flying a plane you pull back on the joystick to go up, and push forward to go down.
      Those little sticks on the controller are just mini joysticks.

    • I don’t hold my controller vertically, because that would be weird. I pull the stick backward to look up, the same way I tilt my head backward to look up.

  • to me it’s real simple. If you are standing up in real life and want to look up, you pull your body back. If you want to look down, you tend to lean forward.

    So, you push the controller in games in the same directions.

    You’re welcome, scientists.

    • I don’t know how you look around, but if I want to look up, I don’t pull my body back, I move my face…. up.

      By your rationale, are you pulling your body to the left to look right?

      I am just messing with you, people should play how they’re comfortable, so power to all the inverts..

        • if you put a ‘joystick’ in the back of an avatar’s head to signify this though…Pull down to make them look up, I get that..
          But as above, you would have to push right to make them look left, so it kinda doesn’t work for both axis..

          Again, it obviously DOES work for those preferring invert controls, and I think it’s one of those things that either clicks, or doesn’t.

          • First of all, a dual joystick input system is only going to cover four of the six degrees of freedom in 3D space, so any control scheme is going to involve some compromises.

            I tend to think of the joystick as the head+neck itself, rather than something stuck vertically to the back of the head. Granted that would mean looking left/right should be mapped to twisting the joystick, but that is not an available input and would be pretty uncomfortable to use.

      • It may not be the “body” per se, but it’s your neck muscles that control your head movement and when they pull “back”, your head looks up and when they pull “forward”, your head looks down. Therefore it makes sense that it translates to the same controls.

  • Some of these internal preferences are fascinating. I used to play all my game inverted. I switched long enough ago that I don’t remember the impetus for switching, but I do know it is not hard-wired that you can only do one.
    I wonder if it is similar to left-handed vs right-handed people. I am left-handed, however there are some activities I naturally do right handed (such as most gaming) or I have trained myself to do right handed (guitar, tennis and pool).

  • I play first person games non-inverted (so up is up, down is down) but I played third person games inverted (down moves up, up moves down).

    Why? I guess it’s because in a third person game, when I’m looking around, what I’m moving is the *camera*, not the character’s head. You’re not looking at the game world through the player character’s eyes, you’re looking at it through a camera that allows you to see both the world and the player character.

    In that context, I think inverted controls make a lot of sense, because you’re essentially piloting a flying camera like you would pilot a plane. Pull back to look up, push forward to look down.

    • Didn’t see this before I posted below but the ‘camera’ explanation is exactly my thinking too! Although I’m always inverted regardless of first or third person perspectives.

  • I play inverted. For me its a matter of perspective – I think the best way I can explain it (given its mostly a subconscious thing for me) is that the screen to me is a fixed camera I am looking through. If I’m standing behind a fixed camera and I want to point it at the ground, I would push the camera forward (i.e. down) whereas if I wanted to point the camera at the ceiling I’d pull it back. It makes sense in my head but I get why others wouldn’t view it that way.

    I can play games non-inverted if I don’t have a choice (looking at you Fall Guys) but it required a conscious effort and if I’m not thinking about it I will default to inverted and end up staring at the ground/sky before I consciously remember I have to play it the other way.

    • I don’t have a problem with people doing it the other way, but inverted is the original OG setting. Way back in the dim past of gaming, it was the default – because we had flight sims mainly, and big chunky joysticks. It physically makes sense with a large stick to do it that way because it mimics planes and actual head movement.

      Then we moved to control pads, and I guess that’s where the change started to happen – they were flat thumbpads with less of a point of reference to the real world, so it wasn’t as analogous.

      Then once the control pads started adding in thumbsticks, it all got a little blurred. Those of us raised on joysticks stuck with inverted while the younger generation brought up on control pads stuck with non-inverted. But you also have to remember that a bunch of the really early 3D games on PS, PS2, N64 etc experimented with some REALLY out there control schemes.

      ALSO – a lot of those initial console FPS games had inverted as the default, because that still made the most sense to the designers coming from that generation. Goldeneye, Turok, Timesplitters – all had inverted as the default.

      And then Halo did that thing where it ASKED your opinion during the suit’s startup sequence…so I blame Halo.

  • It’s weird. I used to always play with Y inverted, but for some reason maybe a decade ago I just… stopped. I can’t remember which game it was, but one of them felt really weird playing inverted and from that point on I stopped looking for the option.

  • What would be even cooler is a study into why developers insist on being inconsistent with which control scheme they consider inverted.

    It’s almost as bad as the maddening hunt for the subtitle options.

  • I ended up retraining my brain and going non-inverted. I used to play with inverted Y controls, ever since it was an option, I just found it much more natural. I think it’s my son’s fault, he would make me play his Minecraft maps on my own PC but he’d play normal instead of inverted and would get grumpy if I changed the mouse options so I just put up with it. There was also another game which had a bug with inverted controls not working and I got fed up with trying to wrangle with it and just gave up, switching to normal style.

    Found myself so used to it that when I’d go back and play games that already had the control options set to inverted such as old FPS games I had installed it just felt wrong.

  • For me, its inverted for flight sims, non-inverted for everything else. If I’m looking upwards, the motion I make is ‘looking up’ not a conscious ‘I am manipulating my musculature in X manner’. With flight sims, the joystick represents the control stick of the craft which controls the pitch of the nose, so its your hand making the same motion a real pilot would make.

    • Basically anyone I know that plays inverted it almost always gets traced back to flight sims or Goldeneye on N64… Because inverted was originally the ‘normal’ setting.

      So the only logical conclusion is that inverted was turned into the non-default setting because some weaker souls couldn’t handle the psychological baggage of being considered strange for their non-inverted shenanigans. Obviously.

  • Man reading this it is clear to me that we don’t even think we hold the controller the same way, it seems that inverters picture the controller as flat and push forward to look down, normal players seem to picture their controller upright and push up. Bit funny as the answer is for most people probably half way between both orientations in normal gameplay. Personally i just look at normal players as either people too young or too unfortunate and missed out on playing hundreds of hours of Goldeneye.

    • You might be onto something. I’m a gamer in my 40s so started on the Atari 2600 (therefore definitely not ‘too young’), but the N64 was the console that got away for me (I was a Ps1 convert)..

      If only I had’ve picked up that console I might’ve been ‘not normal’ i.e. an invert.. Haha

  • I’m kinda weird when it comes to inversion. Using a mouse I never invert unless it’s a flight sim (in which case it should probably be inverted by default) because it’s like having your hand in a puppets head. Move your hand up to look up, move your hand to look down. It’s a 1:1 movement correlation.

    Using sticks though, the correlation is to a camera with a pan handle that you push down to tilt up and pull up to tilt down. Horizontal inversion is where it gets weird though because my preference varies based more on how it feels rather than any kind of consistent setting.

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