Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture?

This is a pretty fundamental question, and has bothered me for a long time. Most people don't give it a second thought, because this is just how it's been. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to pretend the entire planet is right handed for this post (sorry lefties!), and then ask again, what's wrong with this picture?

Do you see it?

Why is the 'complicated' end of the peripheral located on the left hand side? I've been playing more Street Fighter recently (honestly the only console game I bother with these days), and have been frustrated by my inability to pull off Shorukens 'facing right' on demand. For those living in a cave, a 'dragon punch' on Ken uses a forward, down, down-forward motion. I can do them facing left, since it's a different wrist motion with my left hand (a pull --away from the buttons-- instead of a push toward them). My left hand is just retarded, and it seems like... DUH... that's because I'm right handed. I do anything complicated with my right hand: use chopsticks, throw balls, write letters, thread needles. There's even another joystick I have that's ... uhh.. right handed... and, uhh... okay.

Just gonna stop that sentence right there.

My point is this: why are we 'wasting' our good, dexterous, hand on mashing a bunch of buttons, then trying to perform complicated motions with our dumb hand? An Ultra Finisher with Ken requires doing not one, but TWO Dragon Punch motions, then hitting all three punch buttons. Hmm. Hitting three buttons that are all in a row, or F, D, DF, F, D, DF on a joystick... it's the difference between writing in cursive or stamping down a big rubber stamp. Which hand would you use?

And why has it always been like this? My Atari 2600 had a joystick with a single button, but where was that button located? On the left hand side of the peripheral. You actually held the joystick cupped in your left hand, and operated the 'complicated' end of it with your right hand, while using your left thumb to push the button. The other Atari 2600 peripheral I had was the dial 'paddle thing' for playing Breakout and, again, I specifically remember holding it in my left hand, and using my (more precise, dexterous) right hand to turn the dial.

Then along came Nintendo, and threw all that crap out the window. Now here we were with a d-pad that used your left thumb to control the action, and your right hand was relegated to to jumping and running in Mario. In some games, this actually worked (the early Olympic games, where you needed to mash the buttons as fast as you could, which good made use of your right index and middle fingers), but any game with complicated jumping (Mega Man, Mario, any billion of others), it seemed counter intuitive to using your left hand for the precision motion.

The Nintendo 64 had a pretty unique controller, in that it could be held three different ways:

Given 'prongs' A, B, and C, and hands L and R, we can hold it LARB, LARC, or LBRC. There's one configuration there where the complex object (analog stick) ends up in your right hand (LARB), but I don't remember actually ever playing a game in that configuration.

Is it just me? Am I just a noob? Am I the only one that even thinks about crap like this?


Anonymous said...

Indeed, this anonymous reader thinks exactly the same. I've had weird looks from turning console controllers upside down just to feel proper when I move my character. Perhaps it's a PC gaming thing, perhaps using a mouse to turn and look has gotten us used to our right hand being the proper one for such things. Still, I do wish someone would make 'Lefty' controllers, with bits on opposite sides so I don't feel like a moron, randomly jamming my left thumb in odd directions to do normal things.

Vads said...

As a lefty this has never been a problem for me personally, but yeah can see it as an issue for some.

My only advice would to try and get a custom stick done, perhaps one of the guys showing off their work here can help you.. :)


I saw one custom stick with the buttons placed above the stick, should be left/right friendly if you could actually get used to playing like that!

Vads said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vads said...

Found it. :)


Love custom sticks.

(last comment had wrong url hence the delete)

BFG said...

I can see the point but don't necessarily agree. I've been playing games on Joypads all my life since the NES came out, so playing with my left hand on the d-pad or joystick is just second nature now - trying to switch at this point would probably put me back 10 years :)

I had a short (very short!) crack at my mate's petrol powered radio controlled car a couple of years back and that had the steering on the right, speed on the left, and I just couldn't do it - within about 20 seconds I'd crashed it 4 times and had the controls firmly removed from my hands!

I think part of the reason the buttons are on the right is because of timing and rhythm - the great percentage of games require better timing from the buttons (jumping/shooting at the right time etc). Its much easier to get rhythm and timing right with your favoured hand. Ask any guitarist - fretting with your weak hand and playing the rhythm with your favoured hand is normal practice...

Maniac said...

As a right hander I have always used the stick with my left hand and the buttons with my right, even as a kid, maybe you are a bit weird? I was a bit of an arcade junkie as a kid and arcade machines always, always had the stick on the left and the buttons on the right. So maybe that it is? Who knows.

Saritor said...

I think left-handed people are actually in a better position to understand this than most right handed ones. Since the majority of all tools known to man are made typically with right handed people in mind. Though every once in a while you will find some items that are non-specific to handedness.

Part of it though is just training yourself to be able to do things the other way around. I learned to play guitar right handed because I didn't have access to a lefty one, and now if I tried to swap over to left, it would be near impossible for me to play. And I also use a computer mouse with my right hand, it would be uncomfortable to switch.

Cap'n John said...

I've been playing arcade games since the dawn of man...sometimes it seems that long. I played Space Invaders, Defender, etc, when they first came out 30+ years ago, and almost all the machines I can recall always had the stick on the left and the buttons on the right.

Throughout the years I did run across a couple of 'left-handed' boxes with the stick on the right and the buttons on the left, and I played a couple of these left-handed machines, too. But I could not use my right hand effectively to control the stick, and inevitably I always found myself with wrists crossed so I could use my left hand on the stick and right hand on the buttons.

Think about playing the guitar. If you play right-handed you use your left hand to form complex shapes & patterns in order to finger the chords, and what is your right hand doing? Strumming the strings. But what is your right hand really doing? It's not always strumming all of the strings. Sometimes it's strumming five of them, sometimes four, sometimes even just one string at a time, and it's not always the same string. It has to alternate between strings, and it has to pick out the correct string without you looking at it because when they're playing most guitarists will look at their left hand, not their right. Even guitar wizards who rarely look down when they're playing still look at their left hand when they do. They don't look at their strumming hand to make sure they're strumming the correct strings, because they know their right hand will do what needs to be done. Instead they focus on the left hand as if to make sure it does what it's supposed to. Right hand? You're gold. I can trust you. Left hand? I've got my eye on you.

Playing video games is just like this. Your right hand is in control of all those buttons. 1 button, 2 buttons, 4 buttons, 6 buttons. Your right hand is in charge of them all, and it needs to press the correct button at the correct time without looking. What does your left hand do? It controls the stick. One...single...stick. That's all it has to do. And do you let go of that stick at any time? Hell no. You can't trust your left hand so it stays glued to that stick at all times.

In conclusion, left hand = one stick. Right hand = 6 buttons (or more), because it's up to the task.

BFG said...

What he said and much better than I did :)

Rich said...

good point john, with the one stick vs many buttons, but I still think on games like Street Fighter, where complex gestures are required to pull off moves, it's the left hand that's stuck with the more complicated task.

I'm not proposing a radical change, just asking why it developed this way in the first place.

when I'd play Zangief in the arcades on SF2 I'd actually cross my wrists and use my right hand to 360 piledriver.

In fact, following that train of thought, I remembered 720, the skate game... it had two sets of buttons... (http://www.robohara.com/arcade_collection/720.jpg), and I used my right hand to twirl the stick while my left hand mashed on push and jump.

Some cabinets had this luxury of providing ambidextrous layouts... once we moved to home consoles, it was left thumb = d-pad until dual analog sticks came along.

Again, not proposing a change this late into the game, just pointing out a strange thing that's always rubbed me wrong.

Cap'n John said...

Ahh! Now this was a game! Two Joysticks, NO buttons. Karate Champ!

Oh, yeah! Now I'm showing my age ;)

Damn, that game rocked!

ithilyn said...

I've wondered this too, but about playing the guitar. Why do we do all the crazy fingering with our left hand, and strum/pick with our right?

Tesh said...

My little brother demonstrates a strange riff on the guitar analogy. He is right handed, but his left hand has some slight nerve damage that means he doesn't have great control over his ring and pinky fingers. As such, he plays guitar "left handed", so he can use his "good" fingers for the strumming and picking, and his "full hand" for the fretboard. He's almost always watching the fretboard, though. There's just more to nail down correctly there.

As for SF, I've never been able to pull off a good Zangief piledriver (heaven forbid doing a Super version of one). I'm a fair to middling player, but yes, my timing can be a problem sometimes because I'm right handed. Interestingly, in a game like Capcom vs. Marvel, which is more tempo/combo based (more precision in button pressing, not movements), I tend to do *worse* until I get into the groove and start telling my muscle memory what those combos are.

...and now you've got me wondering if Davie Sirlin has any relevant experience pondering about just this concept. Hrm.

Anonymous said...

you are just a normal everyday



Jeremy said...

I'm really late to the party, but the guitar comment really made me think. I've never played guitar before I picked up a guitar controller for Rock Band, and just realized right now that I was playing it left-handed. But I didn't know it at the time (in fact I google image searched 'guitar playing' to see how it's normally done), it just seemed more natural to have my left hand strum and my right hand push buttons.

Carra said...

Interestingly, the games I play on PC use the correct order.

Take a shooter or WoW. Buttons are pushed with the left hand. Precision movement like aiming happens with the right hand. Makes perfect sense.

My old controllers didn't require much precision. The sega 8 bit just had a eight sides pad on the left side plus two buttons. It didn't really matter much as neither side was complicated. The left side got more and more complicated with analog sticks to give more precision. While the right side just added a few more buttons. Just seems to have grown historically.

And as a beginning guitar player I'm having problems trying to hit the right chords with my right hand. The chord changes work okish but figuring out where I have to strum... I end up looking at my strumming hand. Of course, practice makes perfect and I try to do the strumming blind, I'll get it eventually.