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Move Lefty, Attack Righty


CasualCart
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Graphics Team · Posted

So this morning I woke up with a sore tendon in my right thumb. I thought it was from drawing too long at work, but I realized that it was actually from playing Atari 2600 the day before.

It's become so established in gaming that your left hand is for directional movement, and your right hand is for actions (shoot, jump, etc.). But on the Atari 2600, the joysticks were made the opposite way, causing my hand to get sore without any muscle-memory to back up my gameplay. 

So why did "move lefty, attack righty" become the accepted format for game-control? Do you think left-hand / right-hand dominance affects how you play because of this? How were the earliest arcade games set up in this regard? Did left-hand movement rise to prominence with Japanese-developed consoles / controllers? So many questions...

-CasualCart

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2 hours ago, CasualCart said:

 

So why did "move lefty, attack righty" become the accepted format for game-control? Do you think left-hand / right-hand dominance affects how you play because of this? How were the earliest arcade games set up in this regard? Did left-hand movement rise to prominence with Japanese-developed consoles / controllers? So many questions...

 

Ordering the letters of buttons from right-to-left is certainly Japanese in origin, at least.

 

The question about arcade games is interested, because a lot of the early era of arcade games only used a single stick.

Or if they had buttons (and players taking turns) there were buttons to both the left and the right of the stick that had identical functionality, so you could choose your handedness.

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The Donkey Kong arcade machine came out before the Game & Watch version (obviously), and it had already established that you would use your left hand to control Jumpman/Mario's movement and your right hand to make him jump with the button.  So, while the D-pad was debuted with the DK Game & Watch, it's not really fair to say Yokoi standardized left-handed movement with the same device.  If anything, he was just mimicking the left-handed movement controls of the arcade game that the Game & Watch was trying to imitate...

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This is an interesting question that I've spent some time thinking about in the past. I don't know enough about handedness in Japanese culture to try to get into the creators' mind, but I do have some thoughts from a technical standpoint.

The D-pad generally does not require lightning fast movements. Instead, it often uses long presses, with a sliding motion to transition between directions.  Because the D-pad is treated like one large button, the thumb rests there during long presses or even when no movement is occuring. This provides additional tactile feedback for the hand with less-developed proprioception.

I believe that repetitive button pushing requires higher speed, strength, and accuracy than prolonged holding required for most D-pad inputs. The face buttons require split second button taps with extremely high accuracy. In the most demanding platformers and fighting games, D-pad inputs may be strict, but the timing on the face button presses is even tighter. If the right thumb is lifted between presses, then there is minimal tactile feedback regarding starting position. Therefore this task must fall to the hand with better developed proprioception and greater strength & speed.

Did this much thought go into it originally? I have no clue, but it makes sense to me.

Edited by DoctorEncore
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way back in the day, when one of my friend group had an injury from playing too many video games (usually combined with beating a game that nobody else had----or so they claimed!) we referred to it as "Nintendo Thumb". i don't know how common this phrase is/was, and it really has little to do with your question, but i felt that it warranted inclusion anyway.

if i play modern consoles for a while and try to return back to the older systems, i sometimes start to feel this affliction creep up.  i know better now, but it's still a good/bad memory so makes me smile.

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I’m guessing right-hand dominance in the majority of gamers has to play a part in the logistics of the controller setup. 

The buttons require dexterity, speed and stamina for a game to get maximal value. The hand of dominance will give you the best output to these gaming factors. 

Also, I think in Asian cultures it is more encouraged to be using the right hand as the dominant hand. Probably relevant to some degree with the topic thread in mind.

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Graphics Team · Posted

Interesting - I think which control is better suited for a gamer's dominant hand would actually vary by game if it wasn't already pre-established.

For example, @DoctorEncore, @DarkTone, and @GPX - you guys make good points about the extra dexterity required for the action button in many cases. Like platformers with jump-sensitivity based on input pressure. 

But the opposite would be true of games like space-shooters, where you'd think your dominant hand would be more useful for maneuvering the ship while your non-dominant hand can just button-mash (or even hold down fire in many cases).

Then there are games like Tetris where movement and block-flipping both require the same precision and speed.

-CasualCart

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Graphics Team · Posted
18 hours ago, arch_8ngel said:

Ordering the letters of buttons from right-to-left is certainly Japanese in origin, at least.

That makes a lot of sense.

What confuses me, then, is why many early Japanese-developed games established left-to-right scrolling as a standard for several genres (like platformers and horizontal shooters). This isn't always the case, of course, but I would have thought a culture that reads right-to-left would design games to progress the same way.

I imagine a lot of these design decisions were arbitrary, but it's fun to speculate anyway.

-CasualCart

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2 hours ago, CasualCart said:

That makes a lot of sense.

What confuses me, then, is why many early Japanese-developed games established left-to-right scrolling as a standard for several genres (like platformers and horizontal shooters). This isn't always the case, of course, but I would have thought a culture that reads right-to-left would design games to progress the same way.

I imagine a lot of these design decisions were arbitrary, but it's fun to speculate anyway.

-CasualCart

I have also wondered about this. There is probably a logical reason.

My theory is that film/animation progresses from left to right along the reel since it originated in western cultures. Anyone making video games in the earliest days of the medium would have been likely been familiar with film. And, for obvious reasons, video games are closer to film/animation than they are to writing or even manga. As such, these early creators may have envisioned the character moving along the film reel (i.e. from left to right) in order to progress the adventure.

Again, just a guess, but I'd buy it if someone told me it was true.

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6 hours ago, CasualCart said:

Interesting - I think which control is better suited for a gamer's dominant hand would actually vary by game if it wasn't already pre-established.

For example, @DoctorEncore, @DarkTone, and @GPX - you guys make good points about the extra dexterity required for the action button in many cases. Like platformers with jump-sensitivity based on input pressure. 

But the opposite would be true of games like space-shooters, where you'd think your dominant hand would be more useful for maneuvering the ship while your non-dominant hand can just button-mash (or even hold down fire in many cases).

Then there are games like Tetris where movement and block-flipping both require the same precision and speed.

-CasualCart

Regarding shooting games, left side requires dexterity and precision, and the right side requires stamina for repeated button mashing. So...

I’m now inclined to think that whoever created the joystick or D-pad, probably just flipped a coin to see which goes where.

”coin toss is heads, righto, d-pad goes on the left!”

Edited by GPX
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i would think the soreness resulted more from moving the Atari joystick, than from which hand you use for it. It’s much different from a D-pad or the short analog sticks on modern consoles in the way you use either hand. Having not grown up with a 2600, I’ve always found the joystick difficult and unresponsive. This could be due to old deteriorated electronics, but every 2600 controller I have used seems this way. I prefer using a Genesis controller. Never had a problem with arcade machine joysticks. 

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A lot of old arcade games have a joystick in the center with buttons on either side, letting you play as you prefer.

Asteroids require you to control the ship with your right hand, and control the boost + attacks with your left, unless you cross your arms in an uncomfortable stance. It's really, really annoying, and entirely due to muscle memory, it makes the game harder to me than it should be.

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I got used to going cross arm to play various games once I'd get tired after awhile of just going and going to give it a bit of a rest so that never phased me.  I got to where it would get tiring after hours on stuff like Street Fighter II and got used to playing it either handed equally well.  I did it with various earlier games too if it just felt more comfortable that way so that's probably why it worked well in SF2 too.  No reason to re-learn something when you can just take another handle on it and get used to that.

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18 hours ago, Sumez said:

Asteroids require you to control the ship with your right hand, and control the boost + attacks with your left, unless you cross your arms in an uncomfortable stance. It's really, really annoying, and entirely due to muscle memory, it makes the game harder to me than it should be.

I don't know what funky version of Asteroids you were playing, but the original arcade machine has the left/right rotation buttons on the left side of the control panel and the thrust and fire on the right, which is in line with what I would expect for left=movement, right=attack.  MY issue with asteroids is that on the right side of the panel, the left button is thrust and the right button is fire; being that I grew up with the NES, it feels way more natural for me to spam a fire button with my index finger, rather than having to hold down thrust with the index finger while trying to use my middle finger to spam the fire button at the same time...

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4 hours ago, Dr. Morbis said:

I don't know what funky version of Asteroids you were playing, but the original arcade machine has the left/right rotation buttons on the left side of the control panel and the thrust and fire on the right, which is in line with what I would expect for

Weird, I had to actually look up pictures to confirm you're right.
I guess my issue must be simply with the thrust being on the right, then. Either way it feels super uncomfortable to me to play. I'll have to replay it next time I'm close to a cabinet!

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