When up means down: why do so many video game players invert their controls?

February 28, 2020 at 08:03AM

This is a genuinely fraught topic: is it generational, habitual, or explained by neuroscience? I asked the experts

Imagine you are playing a video game where you’re looking out over an explorable world. You have a controller in your hand and you want your character to look or move upwards: in what direction do you push the joystick?

If the answer is “up”, you’re in the majority – most players push up on a stick, or slide a mouse upwards, to instigate upward motion in a game. Most, but not all. A significant minority of players start every new game they play by going into the options and selecting “Invert Y axis”, which means when they push up on the stick, their onscreen avatar looks or moves downwards. To both sets of players, their own choice is logical and natural, and discussions about the subject can get quite fraught – as I found when I tweeted about it a few weeks ago. But why the perceptual difference? Is there anything definite that neuroscientists or psychologists can tell us about this schism?

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