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Scientists Are Finally Studying Why Some Of You Nerds Don't Invert Your Controllers

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

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There are two great mysteries at the heart of console gaming: Why are there people out there who don't invert their controllers? And why on Earth would the makers of such games label this perverse layout as "normal"?

For those of you who aren't gamers, a brief explanation. The so-called normal layout of a controller is when you push the right analog stick up and your view in the game looks up. For the inverted mode, pushing up with the same stick will make you look down.

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Surprisingly, there isn't really any science out there that tells us why it is that some people like to invert and some people are complete "wrong'uns".

Could it be something about the way different people picture spaces? Or perhaps it has something to do with another sensory process. Or as many people on the Internet have suggested, it merely has to do with the games we learned to play on.

"Learned how to play inverted in TimeSplitters 2," one Redditor wrote on the topic, with another adding "That is the single reason why I still play inverted to this day! I thought this was way too specific of an experience to discover I share it with others". From the same era, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark set the controls to inverted by default, and it's possible this could account for a lot of people learning the "correct" way to game. 

So far, we just don't know, but that could be about to change. 

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A clear illustration of the difference, for anyone confused.

Having been forced to close down their usual experiments due to the challenges of Covid-19, one team led by Dr Jennifer Corbett, co-head of the Visual Perception and Attention Lab at Brunel University London, is looking into it. Following an interview with the Guardian about the topic, the debate raged with her colleagues, and now Corbett and her colleague Dr Jaap Munneke have decided to figure out what's going on.

The team will provide volunteers with tasks to mentally rotate shapes and measure how much they rely on contextual and body cues when they make spatial judgments, the team told the Guardian in a separate article.

“There are no right or wrong answers in these tasks – we’re interested in how people might perform differently," Corbett said. "We’ll obtain one or two measures – for example, average reaction time, average accuracy – from each participant in each of four short computerised online experiments and then correlate these measures with information from a questionnaire about gaming habits that each participant will also complete.”

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The team does not yet know what they will find. They have received 500 applications from gamers to take part in the experiment, so hopefully, it won't be too long until they fill in the "gaping hole" in our knowledge, which might have applications we just don't know about yet.

“Understanding these sorts of individual differences can help us better predict where to place important information and where to double-check for easily missed information in everything from VR gaming to safety-critical tasks like detecting weapons in baggage scans or tumours in X-rays," Corbett added.


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