sᴉxɐ-⅄ / sᴉxɐ-X

When up means down: why do so many video game players invert their controls? [The Guardian] “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?”
posted by Fizz (108 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I am here for the science behind why inversion works for some people and not for others. I’m not here for making this about an US vs THEM kind of mentality where we privilege one way of playing over another. Fuck all that noise.

People should feel free to play how they like to play and I hope that programmers continue to retain this option as a setting, it makes for a more accessible game.

I personally do not invert controls or camera movement, as it just messes with how I perceive up and down when playing a simulation, but I’m glad it’s there for those that need it.
posted by Fizz at 11:32 AM on February 28 [18 favorites]

everyone i know who does the inversion regularly played some kind of plane flying sim as their first dual joystick-type controller game so that was their first default setting.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:37 AM on February 28 [76 favorites]
Flight simulators? Flight simulators.
posted by higginba at 11:38 AM on February 28 [35 favorites]
It’s muscle memory. The first game I played with the ability to look up and down with the mouse was Terminal Velocity. Being that you were polluting some kind of plane thing, they had up push the nose down and vice versa. I played that game a lot. When I enabled mlook in Quake (the first game fps I played where it really mattered), I naturally set the controls inverted.

I’ve tried to train myself it off it, but cannot. The best I can do is kind of a slight off center view when steering with a mouse.

On preview, what poffin boffin said.
posted by Hactar at 11:39 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]

Isn’t this a Mac vs PC thing?
posted by Mrs Potato at 11:39 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]
> you want your character to look or move upwards

This is a pretty serious misunderstanding in the article’s introductory paragraph. Controls never invert movement. They only invert looking.

What I find interesting is that for an orbiting-camera control, you want to invert the X-axis as well as the Y-axis, whereas for a flight simulator you only want to invert Y.
posted by Phssthpok at 11:39 AM on February 28 [12 favorites]

This is especially true of older gamers – in the 1980s and early 1990s, flight sims were a hugely popular genre, and of course, the controls would be inverted to match an aircraft yoke or joystick. The chances are, if you grew up with Microsoft Flight Sim or the LucasArts X-Wing and Tie-Fighter games, you have become used to pulling back on the controls to move upwards.

Descent for me, on keyboard.
Also because of how the engine calculated movement, it’s best to aggresively strafe/slide.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:40 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]

I don’t play games anymore but when I used to play Quake or Half Life I’d always invert the mouse. I assumed it was because I was brought up on flight simulators where pulling back on the stick made you go up.

Anything else just felt completely unnatural though I suspect if I forced myself to do it the other way for an hour I’d get used to it.
posted by bondcliff at 11:40 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]

I invert in first person, not in third. I also use wasd for movement in third person games, and ert[right mouse button] in first person games. I think it’s the difference between “being” the character and “piloting” or “controlling” the character.
posted by mrgoat at 11:41 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]
I find both natural to their own uses – airplanes and vehicles make sense with the inversion, FPS make sense without.

Interesting that we can get used to up/down inversion but never would to left/right inversion though
posted by mit5urugi at 11:41 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]

I used to invert (though I’m not sure if I still would; it’s been a while since I’ve played a game where it could be relevant). As mentioned above, I think it’s down to early exposure to flight simulators. If inversion were about pitching your head, one would expect that to also apply to yaw (horizontal motions), but that’s not a thing for anyone as far as I know?
posted by Jpfed at 11:41 AM on February 28
I definitely fit the profile of an old who played 80s-90s flight sims and transferred the habit to FPS games later.

And unless you’re holding your joystick up against the wall, you’re pushing the stick forward and not up. Like when you look at the ground, you move your head forward, and you move it back when you look up. It’s not unnatural in the least.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 11:41 AM on February 28 [19 favorites]

Left/right look inversion is an option on many games actually. Mostly in 3rd person games (I agree it seems weird for 1st person games).
posted by thefoxgod at 11:43 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]
“Flight simulators” is the reason I prefer that setup. Ok, so why are flight simulator and real airplane controls like that? I think of it as though the stick was rigidly attached to the top of the plane, and it just tilts the plane in the direction you would expect if that was the case.
posted by FishBike at 11:44 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]
from the article: non-inverters are fully inhabiting the avatar as a body, while the inverters are controlling it as a vehicle

But I don’t think this is true, for reasons demonic winged headgear just said.

pulling backwards on the mouse makes me look up because that’s how heads move.
posted by Just this guy, y’know at 11:44 AM on February 28 [6 favorites]

Oh, and I used to invert-Y in first person games. Somewhere along the line I switched. And I sometimes do and sometimes don’t invert in flight games that use mouse controls, without any real consistency, it really all depends on how the game controls. I don’t invert in No Man’s Sky, for instance. Always invert when playing with a flight stick.
posted by mrgoat at 11:44 AM on February 28
Nthing the flight simulator theory. And it’s not so much “up” and “down” as it is “forward” and “backward” like an airplane’s joystick.

On preview: I agree with demonic winged headgear, which is a sequence of words I am grateful to have the opportunity to put together.
posted by Horkus at 11:45 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]

Raise your hand if you loved the hell out of some Descent back in the day, to the point where you got a new joystick so you wouldn’t have to use the keyboard for anything.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:45 AM on February 28 [13 favorites]
ac origins and ac odyssey have the inversion set as default only for the controls when flying your mind-linked bird companions, and it took me a depressingly long time to figure that out, i kept crashing my innocent eagles into passers-by.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:45 AM on February 28
I can validate the first theory in the article.

For me, if I’m in a first person view , then pushing forward has a similar proprioception feel to tilting my head forward. When I tilt my head forward I look more down. This is further reinforced by real world experience with airplane yokes. I believe these elements have combined to give me a strong preference in this game/view mode.

Which may all just be tied to the lost years of my youth playing Elite on the C64. The rear firing laser works the way a majority of people apparently prefer, at least until you try a roll…
posted by meinvt at 11:45 AM on February 28 [2 favorites]

In flight sims, it makes sense, because I’m tilting the plane forward to go down, tilting backward to go up, and tilting left and right to turn left and right, respectively.

But in looking, I am not tilting my head to the right or left, I’m directing my eyes. I’m also directing my eyes up and down to look around. Yeah, if I need to widen my field of vision, I’m moving my head, but my eyes move without moving my head.

Maybe inverted look would make sense for an owl simulator.
posted by explosion at 11:46 AM on February 28

*scribbles in notebook while whispering* owl simulator
posted by Horkus at 11:48 AM on February 28 [26 favorites]
Flight simulators

I find that funny because I am literally a pilot and I don’t invert my controls. I’ve also played sims since the original Flight Simulator and I’m perfectly comfortable flying simulators with “right” controls or arcade controls.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:49 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]

MetaFilter: i kept crashing my innocent eagles into passers-by.
posted by Fizz at 11:49 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]
My first first-person games experience was with flight sims, starting with Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer in glorious 4-color CGA, and I definitely imprinted on inverted controls.

I have no trouble with the default controls on a touchscreen phone or tablet but cannot abide “natural” (i.e. touchscreen style) controls on a trackpad. Maybe that supports the acting as / acting on distinction.
posted by jedicus at 11:50 AM on February 28

well some of them were spartans and had it coming
posted by poffin boffin at 11:52 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]
For me, the answer to “why use inverted?” was definitely “flight simulators”.

However, after playing games with inverted mouse for literally 30 years or so, I switched like 2 years ago (because of a game I really liked that didn’t have an option). It took some time to adjust but eventually became just as natural, and at this point I use non-inverted. I think I still prefer inverted with a controller, though.

Also the first thing I do setting up a mac is to turn off the godawful reverse scroll thing they put in place a few years back for the touchpad.
posted by tocts at 11:53 AM on February 28 [3 favorites]

MetaFilter: i kept crashing my innocent eagles into passers-by.

And that man’s name? Was the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
posted by The Tensor at 11:55 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]

Do people hold their controllers vertically? “Up” on my analog stick is more like “forward” really.

And yeah, nthing the flight sim connection. Descent, Terminal Velocity, hell even as far back as LineWars I was using “inverted” controls because they were flying games.

Then it was easier to just keep that muscle memory than try to retrain myself.
posted by ODiV at 11:56 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]

Isn’t the more general answer just that players got trained by whatever game they played first?
posted by GuyZero at 11:56 AM on February 28
Thinking about it a little more, in third person games like GTA I’d actually prefer inverted look controls but non-inverted aiming controls.

Having grown up almost exclusively on PC games, though, I actually don’t really like joysticks for controlling anything except flight simulators. Most of the games I like using a controller for don’t use the joysticks (most notably Spelunky, I guess).
posted by backseatpilot at 11:57 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]

Seems like this would be difficult to test for, I can manage with inverted and not but I prefer not. Old games seemed like they often only had one or the other so you’d just get used to it and anything you get “used to” runs the risk of just becoming what you do.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:57 AM on February 28
Isn’t the more general answer just that players got trained by whatever game they played first?

Yes, but people have rationales that they’ve built up for why it feels natural. For many people it isn’t just “this is my familiar control scheme,” but “this is what makes sense.”
posted by explosion at 11:59 AM on February 28

From the article: Also, many inverters feel that inverting the Y-axis actually brings us closer to human movement because we tilt our heads backwards to look up and forwards to look down.

This was my first thought, as related to joystick use, which tweaks the up/down idea a bit. On a directional pad, up is up, but on a joystick? You’re getting into 3D space.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:00 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

Non-gamer who flails around when using a controller and has to invert the y-axis in order to feel some kind of right. Came here for what demonic winged headgear said about forward and back. When you use a joystick for movement in a horizontal plane, forward, back, left, right make sense. When you use a joystick to look, those that aren’t inverting are transforming forward to mean up in their mind and backward to mean down. But our heads don’t move around a horizontal plane, they rotate. To look up, you must tip your head back. To look down, you must drop your head forward.
posted by kaelynski at 12:01 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]
Do people hold their controllers vertically? “Up” on my analog stick is more like “forward” really.

Sometimes! My controller has a fairly mobile life, and I only use it at my desk. Moving the controller helps me jump, fly, run, etc., as does making that face. I don’t think of my controller usage in terms of relativity to the world around me, but as relative to the plane the buttons are mounted to. If it’s upside down and backwards, “up” on the joystick is still “up”.
posted by Zudz at 12:04 PM on February 28

I find that funny because I am literally a pilot and I don’t invert my controls.

You’re probably too afraid of stalling your Doom Marine.
posted by bondcliff at 12:05 PM on February 28 [5 favorites]

well there’s no joystick attached to my head so the movement doesn’t feel “natural” to me personally like it does for everyone here with augments.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:05 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]
I invert for third-person views, and keep the default for first-person views. I think that at least part of it is that in third-person you’re controlling an invisible flying camera, so it probably makes more sense for my brain if it follows physically (tilt down to move the viewport up, tilt up to move the viewport down). In FP games, it’s more like my hand is guiding an imaginary set of neck muscles. These are also post-hoc rationalizations… it probably has a lot to do with the first games I played with mobile cameras. Does anyone know if Mario 64 had inverted look controls by default?
posted by codacorolla at 12:06 PM on February 28
Oh interesting! I invert my Y-axis on Playstation and Switch games, but never really had an explanation for why. It just feels so much better to me, and I can relax into muscle memory. I never did play flight simulators that I can remember…
posted by theatro at 12:07 PM on February 28
There are a couple of things wrong here that make the problem look weirder than it is. First of all, invert only inverts looking, not movement, and secondly, you don’t usually push “up” on a joystick, you push “forward”, and yes, I use inverted Y always, and it feels natural, not just because of flight simulators, but because it’s the same way I move my head to look up or down.

But maybe this is just like that Apple scroll thing, are you moving the viewport or the content, etc.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:07 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

Also the first thing I do setting up a mac is to turn off the godawful reverse scroll thing they put in place a few years back for the touchpad.

The emergence of touchscreens meant that the original scrolling metaphor (pulling on the scrollbar rather than on the screen) was alien to more and more people. I think the change was well-motivated. Like you, I put it back the old way until Windows had a similar option since I was using both at that time and it was hard to switch. And then I bit the bullet and went back to the new Mac default (on both).

But yeah, to each their own.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:09 PM on February 28

+1 flight sims caused this, if my sample size of 1, my spouse, is to be believed.

Related, I now have to invert my scroll on OS X because it defaults to “using finger on tablet/phone” and not “using mouse/keyboard/touchpad on computer.” It feels super weird to me to uncheck the “Scroll direction: Natural” because Natural is, in fact, UPSIDE DOWN THANKS.
posted by potrzebie at 12:11 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]

The couple of times I tried to play an FPS with an inverted Y-axis (console gaming), I felt like I was totally out of control of the character. It was deeply uncomfortable, to the point where I felt like I couldn’t even control what my hands and fingers were doing.

While there may be some neurological predisposition to invert or not to invert, what would probably be more interesting to see would be the neurological effects of long-term inverting, not-inverting, or even switching.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:13 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

If the controls are a direct analog for my neck, then pushing right and left should tilt the camera.
posted by RobotHero at 12:14 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]
I invert or don’t depending on the game. The rule for me is “whatever feels right on first impression”, but generally, stick forward = nose down if flying or undersea, otherwise forward probably feels like “up”.

In racing games, which is most of what I play that isn’t WASD/mouse, I strongly prefer accelerate/brake triggers rather than a stick.
posted by Foosnark at 12:16 PM on February 28

i need to invert up/down so hard that sometimes i consider inverting left/right just to see if it feels as good.
posted by wibari at 12:18 PM on February 28
What I really want to know now is the evolution of flight controls, and if there was a debate in early aviation for how to wire up the controls.
posted by curious nu at 12:18 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]
FWIW, after having used it on my phone for a year or two, when Apple started defaulting to “natural” scrolling on MacOS as well, I decided to try it, and I think it took me less than a week for it to feel perfectly natural. I assume inverted look in games would be similar.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:20 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]
Also, another one on team early-PC-flight-sims. I’ve changed camera styles ever since in every game I could. I’ve adapted to games where you can’t but not easily/quickly.
posted by curious nu at 12:21 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]
I’m not here for making this about an US vs THEM kind of mentality where we privilege one way of playing over another.

Well. let me tell ya, this might not be the right place for ya then. /s

But truly, to wit, it only feels right for me in flight games (Starfox or better yet Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge anyone? MMMMMmmmmmm) otherwise I’m a non-invert.

My main critique is that I seem to have gotten, as I age and play less, I’m far more sensitive to when FPS games don’t match controller schemes for actions like ‘interact’ or ‘menu’ or ‘grenade’ or whatnot. I basically cannot, not that I play FPS games much anymore, play two similar games/genre if the control scheme doesn’t match exactly [spolier: they rarely do] because my play session is ruined by inadvertently doing X when I mean Y (literally) and/or my brain hurts so much that it’s not fun anyhow. Why can’t there be a universally agreed upon layout of things for non-outlier type behaviors for my right thumb?!? Controllers are the same (mostly) these days!

I’m also curious how this topic (the invert thing, not my hobby horse above) applies to gamers with limited mobility, if one is better/worse/easier inherently to that population because that data point would be interesting indeed.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:23 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]

I remember playing flight simulators when I was young, and it taking some getting used to that up was down. And it became somewhat natural. But when the article mentioned GoldenEye, I realized, shit yeah, the thousands of hours I put into that game definitely cemented my need to invert the controls for every 3rd person game after that. I can say that it feels natural to me that tilting the joystick forward tilts the head forward, but I think that it only feels natural because my brain has been irrevocably altered by GoldenEye.
posted by team lowkey at 12:24 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]
Chuck Yeagers Advanced Flight Trainer, then Xwing, Descent, TIE Fighter, Falcon. Not Wing Commander 2 though, I clearly recall playing that one with the mouse.

It wasn’t until what, Quake? that I wasn’t flying something with mouse or joystick.
posted by BeeDo at 12:25 PM on February 28

My partner inverts and I don’t. Sometimes they need to go to the bathroom while playing an online game and ask me to take over and make sure they don’t die while they’re gone. It’s always a mad calculation on whether I’ll be more likely to die if I take the time to navigate the multiple menus needed to turn off inversion, or if I leave it on and get turned around 5 times trying to get out of the line of fire.
posted by brook horse at 12:26 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]
I’m an inverter, but I didn’t play flight Sims, and was mostly a pc player in my youth. I definitely think of the joystick as my head with the eyes at the front, that just feels like it makes sense to me.

I suspect I was just conditioned by whatever game I played first though, because there’s no logical reason for inversion with a mouse, which is all I used for years. But the conditioning is strong.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:30 PM on February 28

I’m just impressed that people decided to allow inversion, reassignment of buttons, etc To make things accessible to a wider range of people. That seems remarkably sensible given the history of gaming.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:32 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]
Because Star Raiders on the Atari 800 (1979) used a flight yoke control style.

If your game doesn’t allow me to invert the Y axis for camera I won’t play it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:43 PM on February 28

oh hmm i wonder if inverting controls would have made a difference in usability for me when my hands were not working so well. it didn’t even occur to me, i just wanted MOAR BUTTONS and a sticky/textured grip.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:54 PM on February 28
I’ve always deeply appreciated that the first thing Halo 2 asked you to do once you had control was look up, and would then automatically set the Y inversion based on whether you pressed up or down. It amazes me that this was a solved problem 15 years ago, yet for most games today I still have to go into a menu and manually choose to invert.
posted by thecaddy at 1:01 PM on February 28 [16 favorites]
There have been a number of experiments where people wore glasses to invert their vision.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:06 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]
With scrolling screens it depends on which metaphor you are using for the display. Consider the screen a portal exposing a portion of page. When you scroll, are you scrolling the portal up and down a fixed page, or are you scrolling the page up and down a fixed portal?

If you scroll downward to see further down the page, the page is fixed and portal is moving downward.
If you scroll upward to see further down the page, the portal is fixed, and you are pushing the page up through the portal.
posted by ShooBoo at 1:06 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]

Raise your hand if you loved the hell out of some Descent back in the day, to the point where you got a new joystick so you wouldn’t have to use the keyboard for anything.

Descent and Descent II were the shooters I was allowed to get as a kid because you were only shooting robots. I never really got a good joystick though, just played on the keyboard peeking around corners. Funny thing is I never had much difficulty with the combat in either of those games. I stalled out because finding the keycard/switch in full 3D was just too frustrating.
posted by atoxyl at 1:07 PM on February 28

I hate inverted look in non-flight/space games but to each their own.
posted by atoxyl at 1:09 PM on February 28
I suppose for flight controls the decision might date back to early planes where it was mechanically hooked to the ailerons and elevators. Was there a mechanical reason why one direction was better?
posted by RobotHero at 1:10 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]
There have been a number of experiments where people wore glasses to invert their vision.

The SmarterEveryDay guy trained himself to ride a bicycle where the handlebars worked the wrong way. It took him 8 months to master it and then he had to relearn how to ride an ordinary bicycle again.

This is personal for me because I once broke my arm trying to ride with my hands crossed-over.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:13 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]

For me, inverting the Y axis is the only thing that makes sense. Imagine the thumb stick / mouse being the head of the character whose eyes you are looking through. Pulling your head back would tilt the eyes upward, pushing forward would tilt your head toward the ground.

Invert your Y axis. This is the only way 🙂
posted by pleem at 1:16 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

I’ve heard it explained conceptually this way, and it makes sense to me:

1. If you invert the axis, it’s like the mouse is a “head” with a neck on which you rest your hand, and you need to get the “eyes” of the mouse to tilt in the right direction by virtue of adjusting the head. So, for example, if someone had a hand cupped to the back of your head, they would pull down and back (gently, of course) to make your eyes tilt “up.”

2. For non-inverted, it’s more like you are “pushing” or moving your eyesight “into” a particular direction. In this case, it’s like you control the nose of a plane by holding the nose itself, as if it can go wherever it wants to, rather than by tilting the tail down to move the nose up indirectly.

In the second case, I think the “nose of the plane” analogy works pretty good. Namely, do you move the nose of the plane around by feeling that you can move it wherever you want? Or do you move the nose around by the way in which you tilt the tail?

For me, it becomes a difference between a “pulling” versus a “pushing” idea to get the eye of the camera where you want it to line up. Like you are either pushing off towards your goal, or controlling the rudder. I think one’s preference is probably determined by which games you played early on.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:21 PM on February 28 [3 favorites]

The “plane” metaphor makes sense, because that’s how planes do move.

The “head” metaphor makes no sense, because if you affixed a thumbstick to the back of someone’s head, you’d have to push it left to push their eyes to the right. That’s an inverted X-axis, which no one’s suggesting.
posted by explosion at 1:28 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]

When you fly a plane, you pull the joystick in toward you to raise the nose, and push it forward to drop the nose. To take off, you must raise the nose. So pulling the stick back toward me means I want the viewpoint to move forward, and pushing down means I want to go back.
posted by mwhybark at 1:31 PM on February 28
It’s interesting that in sjswitzer’s bicycle clip, the guy took 8 months to learn the reverse bike, but then it only took him about 20 minutes to switch back. It’s not addressed in the video, but I wonder how that plays out the more he switches back and forth. If he switched back and forth enough, would he become equally comfortable in either configuration, taking only a very small / no time to use the right controls?

Does a similar thing happen if you switch between inverted / non-inverted controls in games? I’ve definitely noticed that over time, it’s become easier for me to pick up new control schemes, especially in the age of console ports that lack good remapping functionality.
posted by mrgoat at 1:36 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

do you move the nose of the plane

That’s how it feels, but unless I’m getting flight wrong (which is very possible), the pilot’s forward/backward motion doesn’t control the direction of the plane’s nose; they are controlling the angles of the rear wing surfaces, which control its lift and drag.

This gif from Wikipedia’s flight control surfaces entry shows that the forward/backward directions are part of the mechanism connecting the stick to the elevators.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:39 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

you know, before i had a joystick even i used the t-group arrow keys to control attitude in flight sims, like attitudinal orientation, up down, right left. if it was a 3d sim spacebar meant either fire weapons or add thrust. now that i think about it, that was true in the desktop versions of asteroids, i think. down-arrow meant add thrust and up arrow meant brake.
posted by mwhybark at 1:41 PM on February 28
Of course there’s the real question, which is whether you invert or not when you stick out your arms sideways and pretend to be an airplane. The related question of how long you can pretend to be a helicopter before you chunder is also illuminating.
posted by BeeDo at 1:41 PM on February 28
sort of correct, saxon. pulling the stick back pulled a cable that raised the tail-most horizontal control surfaces, called ‘elevators’, but not the ones on the wings. those are used to control roll, and in landing and takeoff in newer aircraft (newer than, like, 1918).

and i should note that in taildraggers, you must first lift the tail off the ground by lowering the nose while rolling forward on the runway to reduce drag enough to achieve airspeed. so one actually does push forward on the stick at first.
posted by mwhybark at 1:46 PM on February 28

I’m not a gamer, but I think there’s something similar going with scrolling motions on touchpads in other software (office type software, e-readers, etc.)

And here’s the funny bit: I do it both ways. I have the touchpad scrolling direction reversed on some of my computers but not others. I manage to use each on its respective computer, but if I were to reverse the direction on a particular computer I would get confused. I don’t even remember which is the “default” behavior.

And both can be supported by a mental model:

Downward motion on touchpad shows points towards the top of a document = moving a mobile document underneath a motionless window;

Downward motion on touchpad shows points towards the bottom of a document = moving a mobile window over a motionless document.

On a touchscreen, though, I have to use the moving document underneath a motionless window model.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:48 PM on February 28

I invert but fully appreciate I’m in the minority these days. The flight sim, Terminal Velocity, Descent games mentioned at the top of the thread were the things that locked this into place and I live in anticipation of the day where I will have to transition over to “regular”.

Not sure what the first FPS would’ve been to use mouse-look.

Funnily enough, like DevilsAdvocate above mentions, I can switch between Mac and PC for document scrolling but in games it feels so alien…

(Also, Fizz, you’re doing good work with all these gaming threads. Thank you.)
posted by slimepuppy at 1:58 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

I usually play inverted in FPS games, but for a while last year I tried to switch to non-inverted (“regular”). This was a disaster – I ended up being able to control the character either way when just vaguely moving around, but as soon as anything exciting happened (particularly trying to aim while in midair, or control for recoil while shooting) my brain had a sort of mini-seizure and I couldn’t control the character at all. It really felt like nothing I did made any sense, no matter which way I had the preference set. It only took about 2 days to get into this state, but nearly a week of only using invert-Y to get back to being able to control the game under pressure. Honestly, I still sometimes have strange flashbacks where the character’s response feels wrong.
posted by goddess_eris at 2:08 PM on February 28
In regards to airplanes, just think about what happens when you pull the stick back… the plane is now pointing upward and gravity is pulling your whole body back, including your arms and hands on the controls. Pulling back is the natural result of aiming upward. Same if you push forward, the whole plane tilts forward, and gravity is causing you to push forward. It seems it would be incredibly awkward if you were always be opposing gravity to control your up and down angle.

Video games don’t give you that feedback, you’re just looking at screen that has an top that is up and a bottom that is down. If it weren’t for those early flight simulators, who knows if the shooters would have adopted that style.
posted by team lowkey at 2:40 PM on February 28

I invert and yes did play flight simulators as some of my first 3-d games. Muscle memory is a hell of a thing, I can’t play with a Nintendo controller without XY and AB swapped.
posted by zinon at 2:43 PM on February 28
Muscle memory is a hell of a thing, I can’t play with a Nintendo controller without XY and AB swapped.

Bizarrely, if I’m playing a Playstation game and it wants me to use circle instead of X to do the basic action, it completely freaks me out and I have trouble wrapping my head around it. But it feels totally natural when I’m playing a game on the Switch. Brains are weird.
posted by thecaddy at 3:03 PM on February 28

On vaguely similar lines, i had something happen twice last week which i can’t remember happening before. I was looking at a document with a colleague looking over my shoulder and he said, scroll up, so i scrolled up, reached the top of the document and he said, no scrolling up is the other way, ie to reach the bottom of the document. I was taken aback. Something similar happened a couple of days alter with someone else. Am I the weird one here? Reassure me Metafilter.
posted by biffa at 4:04 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]
The answer is flight simulators. I feel very comfortable in saying this, because I use a modern Mac; and it has a touchpad, and the scroll gesture got broken a couple of OS revisions ago so that it would match the gesture of an iOS touchscreen device. Thankfully, they kept an “invert scroll” option, because I have no desire to train myself out of “drag down to scroll up”, as I came here from scroll-wheels.

This causes me consternation when I have to use my wife’s Mac for a moment or two, as she uses the “natural” setting.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 4:30 PM on February 28

The more I think about this, the weirder it gets for me. After my earlier ‘always invert y-axis’ comment, I realized I actually don’t always do that. So then I thought, is it a ‘type of input device’ thing? Game controllers and joysticks have Y inverted, mice and keyboards do not? But no, not really, I’ve operated simulated plane controls with a keyboard and, once, a mouse, and still needed Y inverted for those. And there’s a display screen in the F-14 RIO cockpit where you use the joystick to move the cursor around on it, the Y axis is not inverted in my control setup (and neither is it in the real plane).

So then I thought, is this a rotation vs translation thing? But no, when doing mouse look/aim I do not invert the Y axis. And perhaps more weirdly, in Kerbal Space Program, my keyboard controls for rotation and translation both have the Y axis inverted. Or is it a matter of whether the thing being controlled is ‘towards/away’ vs ‘up/down’? That seemed like a better fit except for that F-14 display, which I would still find confusing it it was oriented horizontally instead of vertically.

I think the best I can do is say it depends on my mental model of what imaginary thing the physical input device is directly hooked up to, and what does that do. And when the game does not provide a reference for that directly, maybe I’m just using whatever one seems most similar from another context.

Joystick control for an imaginary plane that has a control stick? It should move the same way the imaginary one does. Aiming by moving the end of a gun barrel around? The mouse should move in the same direction the end of the gun does. And by ‘should’ I mean how it works for me, not what anyone else should do. This might tie in with the scrolling thing as well–do the scroll controls move a window over a stationary document, or do they move the document behind the stationary window?
posted by FishBike at 4:33 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

Raise your hand if you loved the hell out of some Descent back in the day, to the point where you got a new joystick so you wouldn’t have to use the keyboard for anything.

Descent was so good. That and TIE fighter/X-Wing put me pretty firmly in camp “invert”
posted by ethand at 4:50 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

Games that shift between 1st and 3rd and don’t let you change (I believe it was a PS3(?) transformers game? maybe ps2?) But it annoyed the piss out of me that I was stuck in one scheme. I was pretty sure I dug into the controls to fix it.

But when I think about it too much it confuses me and now I think maybe i’m wrong. so i always have to figure out everytime whether i invert or not, but I’m pretty sure i invert Y. I think for X it depends if I’m moving an object like a pivot point (picture a standing machine gun) or moving my character to look. IDK. shits weird.
posted by symbioid at 4:53 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

And yo – if you like descent, check out Overload – by the same team. It’s classic Descent 1/2 (not the later stuff under that name). It took my a while to get my bearings on that and still have more trouble now than I did then.
posted by symbioid at 4:53 PM on February 28
So I am completely comfortable with inverting and not inverting both the x and y axis. I just ran some basic tests and it made no difference to me. Weird. I never really thought about it before.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:05 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]
The SmarterEveryDay guy trained himself to ride a bicycle where the handlebars worked the wrong way yt . It took him 8 months to master it and then he had to relearn how to ride an ordinary bicycle again.

And yet, on a sailboat you can have a tiller or a wheel and generally have no problem.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:08 PM on February 28

This makes me mindful of the dawn of screen life when it was noticed that scrolling, say, text, had two possible experiences: the text goes up and down in a stationary “window”, or the “window” moves up and down relative to the text. We got past that sticky wicket, we can beat this!!
posted by Chitownfats at 5:20 PM on February 28
The “head” metaphor makes no sense, because if you affixed a thumbstick to the back of someone’s head, you’d have to push it left to push their eyes to the right. That’s an inverted X-axis, which no one’s suggesting.

You are misunderstanding the metaphor. It applies best to using the mouse. You imagine your hand is on top of the character’s head so you push the mouse foreword to look down and turn the mouse left to look left.

The analogy doesn’t work quite as well with a joystick because you push it left rather than rotate to the left but you imagine your thumb is sitting on top of the character’s head, not on a lever sticking out the back of their head. Push the head forward to look down and push over toward the left to look left.

I invert my mouse and one reason it makes sense to me is that it doesn’t require a translation. If you don’t invert the mouse, at some level you are imagining your desktop oriented like a wall in front of you so that pushing the mouse forward is actually pushing it up, pushing the POV up rather than forward. With the mouse inverted you are imagining your hand is in the same plane as it would be in the game world on top of the character’s head.
posted by straight at 5:31 PM on February 28

I think some people do invert the X-axis for third person games because their mental model is that they are controlling Lakitu flying around on a cloud behind Mario(64)’s head, filming all the action.

It’s fascinating that Nintendo thought the whole idea of a movable POV in a 3D game was so weird that they felt the need to embody it in the game world.
posted by straight at 5:40 PM on February 28

My main critique is that I seem to have gotten, as I age and play less, I’m far more sensitive to when FPS games don’t match controller schemes for actions like ‘interact’ or ‘menu’ or ‘grenade’ or whatnot. I basically cannot, not that I play FPS games much anymore, play two similar games/genre if the control scheme doesn’t match exactly [spolier: they rarely do] because my play session is ruined by inadvertently doing X when I mean Y (literally) and/or my brain hurts so much that it’s not fun anyhow. Why can’t there be a universally agreed upon layout of things for non-outlier type behaviors for my right thumb?!?

I don’t blame Descent for my mouse-inverting ways since I never played it with a mouse, but it is why I’m hooked on using EADF instead of WASD. My scheme for controlling 6 degrees of freedom with a keyboard involved resting my fingers on the home row like I was typing and I’ve been rebinding controls to match ever since. (AutoHotKey is my very good friend.)

But one good side effect of having to always rebind keys to play a game is that I end up always setting them consistently so that INTERACT or CROUCH or FLASHLIGHT or GRENADE are always where I expect them to be. A bad side effect is if I have to use a controller or something where I can’t make the controls work like I expect I get a huge case of the clumsy broken brain you describe.
posted by straight at 6:10 PM on February 28

“On vaguely similar lines, i had something happen twice last week which i can’t remember happening before. I was looking at a document with a colleague looking over my shoulder and he said, scroll up, so i scrolled up, reached the top of the document and he said, no scrolling up is the other way, ie to reach the bottom of the document.”

That was discussed earlier. Are you moving the page or a “view” over the page? Traditional UI for computers uses a scroll-bar to move a view up or down. But touch-screen UI moves the page itself up or down. These are opposite motions.

With regard to the inverted y-axis control, I think it’s crucial to be clear on the three axes of rotation. For an airplane, it’s pitch (tilt forward/backward), roll (tilt leftward/rightward), and yaw (rotate leftward/rightward).

Roll makes sense for an airplane—in fact, it’s a necessary consequence of the aircraft control surfaces and the nature of winged flight.

In contrast, roll makes almost no sense, or at the least is virtually useless, with regard to human sight. Roll corresponds to the tilting of the head, which we almost never need to do to understand and navigate in the world.

The control for pitch and roll on an airplane is the flight-stick (or yoke). But the control for yaw on an airplane is the rudder, an independent control, often in the form of foot pedals that move forward and back in coordination but opposite each other.

Crucially, while yaw doesn’t necessarily alter the direction of motion of a plane (an airplane can crab forward), roll necessarily alters the direction of motion as well as orientation on two of the three axes, by virtue of how winged flight works.

Keeping in mind that to turn right, the plane will both roll (tilt) rightward and rotate rightward, a rightward tilt of a stick or a rightward twist of the steering-wheel-like yoke makes sense. So, assuming we’re going to combine pitch and roll in the same control (a control which would then require two degrees of motion), what makes sense for pitch? Well, notice that with roll the stick’s orientation mirrors the tilt of the yaw axis—that is to say, you can think of the stick’s tilt as the plane’s axial tilt (they’ll be parallel or coincident lines). The forward/backward tilt which we call pitch can either be parallel to the stick’s forward/backward tilt, or equal but opposite. The more intuitive configuration is for it to be parallel, as well. In this configuration, the stick will in all cases be parallel with the up/down axis of the plane (or your upright spine), both with regard to roll and pitch.

In contrast, since we typically don’t roll/tilt our heads left/right for any reason, but we do rotate our heads left/right around the axis of our spine/neck, comparable to yaw, the question becomes: if for vision we don’t really ever need roll, but we do need pitch and yaw, and we’re combining two independent degrees of motion on one controller—which is efficient and which both a controller stick and a mouse can perform—then it makes sense to retain the flight-stick paradigm for pitch, but not invert for yaw. Or, equally sensible, ditch the flight-stick paradigm entirely and, assuming one is holding the controller so it’s parallel to the plane of one’s face, to have up/down and left/right stick motion to match the up/down of pitch and the left/right of yaw.

The people who are arguing for the intuitive nature of an inverted-y as matching the rotation of the head are not being consistent because, if they were, then the stick would cause roll (tilt left/right) in the image (or, at least, they’d invert the x-axis for yaw, as well, analogous to a stick on the back of someone’s head). But no one needs roll for vision yet they definitely need yaw.

Note that it also makes sense to invert both the x and y axes for the third-person view because, in that case, you can think of the viewpoint as moving around the surface of a sphere aimed at the player character at the center.

No inversion at all—the modern configuration—corresponds to the opposite of the fully-inverted version; that is to say, it’s like having a stick coming out the front of the head. You’re leading the viewpoint “by the nose”, so to speak.

Inverting only one axis, the y axis, might seem strange but it is very intuitive for the control stick/yoke of an airplane because a left/right bank, due to the nature of the control surfaces and flight, always combines both roll and yaw. (But yaw can be independent!)

To sum, the preference for only an inverted y is the result of three things: 1) this is very intuitive for controlling an airplane, 2) the stick(s) on game controllers evolved from mechanically-equivalent joysticks similar to what is used in aircraft, and 3) flight-simulation games preceded first- and third-person view games and so older gamers most likely first used a stick controller for flight simulation and they retained that preference for first- and third-person views.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:11 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

My niblings consider my inverted y-axis as just proof that I’m an out-of-touch oldie who is too uncool for words. Seems fair.
posted by pompomtom at 6:17 PM on February 28
The people who are arguing for the intuitive nature of an inverted-y as matching the rotation of the head are not being consistent because, if they were, then the stick would cause roll (tilt left/right) in the image (or, at least, they’d invert the x-axis for yaw, as well, analogous to a stick on the back of someone’s head).

That doesn’t apply as much to moving a mouse as you’re actually rotating the mouse (the axis being the heel of your hand) for yaw rather than just pushing it in a direction. And I suspect a significant number of joystick-inverters carry it over from having been mouse-inverters.
posted by straight at 6:18 PM on February 28

Yeah, flying vs FPS and movement. You don’t go through the floor or jump to a ledge by looking up/down. And twitch where you can look up/down left/right for just an instant and fire and hit. It comes down to how fast can you can snap your crosshairs and attack vs how you have to maneuver in free space to get the crosshairs to the right place while your motion/location is dramatically affected because you’re always moving with some momentum and those changes in where you look really impact where you go.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:25 PM on February 28
“That doesn’t apply as much to moving a mouse as you’re actually rotating the mouse (the axis being the heel of your hand) for yaw rather than just pushing it in a direction.”

That makes sense…but a little bit not. If the axis is at the heel of the hand, the movement necessarily traces an arc. This mostly may not matter, I’m not sure. I know that I’ve thought of mouse yaw control as a purely left/right line and not an arc, but I’ve not observed how I actually play. But I’m a Quake keyboard + inverted mouselook person.

I did buy Ultima Underground when it came out—I was very, very excited about FPV gaming—but I don’t recall how the controls were set there. I didn’t play it that much. I also bought Descent when it was released, but didn’t play that much, either. But I was a very early adopter FPS gamer and inverted y mouselook with keyboard strafing set my mindset forever.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:48 PM on February 28

Flight simulators haven’t been an accessible entry point into gaming for a very long time – depending on how you count, the last console flight simulator was on GameCube. There aren’t that many people who played flight simulators before any other games, compared to the audience for games, so I refuse to believe that inverted y-axis controls are catering just to those people.
posted by Merus at 6:50 PM on February 28
I know that I’ve thought of mouse yaw control as a purely left/right line and not an arc,

Your hand/arm holding a mouse is literally pivoting the same way you pivot your head when you look left and right. The idea of mentally abstracting that movement to linear motion and then translating the line back into an arc in your mental model of the game world seems deeply strange.
posted by straight at 7:10 PM on February 28

I have the track wheel on my mouse set backward to most people, I think. Most computers I use have the wheel set to you scroll down by rolling away from you. I think because the metaphor is that you are scrolling the side “how long is this page” marker DOWN the page and toward you is somehow down.

I set mine the other way, I roll away from me to scroll further along the page. Why? Because I’m pushing the text further up in the window while I scroll. Or I’m pulling it down when I go back up the page. Metaphors are fun!
posted by hippybear at 7:25 PM on February 28

“Your hand/arm holding a mouse is literally pivoting the same way you pivot your head when you look left and right. The idea of mentally abstracting that movement to linear motion and then translating the line back into an arc in your mental model of the game world seems deeply strange.”

This would be true if mouse input only worked on one axis. An arc is one-dimensional. The mouse movements on the two-dimensional surface represent two-dimensional input: a mouse arc, pivoting around the heel or elbow, results in two independent inputs and, where both are bound, results in both yaw (looking left/right) and pitch (looking up/down), which is not the desired result in your arc equivalent to head-turning argument, which is yaw alone. If the y-axis of the mouse movement isn’t bound to any game input, assuming that’s possible, then you’d get your desired result at the cost of reducing input describing a plane to input describing a line.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:52 PM on February 28

Your hand/arm holding a mouse is literally pivoting the same way you pivot your head when you look left and right. The idea of mentally abstracting that movement to linear motion and then translating the line back into an arc in your mental model of the game world seems deeply strange.

I think it’s a bit more complex than that. Look down at my own hand with standard Y-up controls.. if the heel of my hand is sitting on my desk my fingers will do different things to keep the horizontal line straight. Heel of hand up.. all the joints of the arm work to keep the mouse moving in a straight line. Arcing the mouse would be a bad habit that would have you shooting over people’s heads in an FPS…

I don’t think the head of my character really enters into my mental model when playing an FPS, the mouse is obviously moving the gun around.

If I had to liken the feel of horizontal mousing it to anything I’d say it’s some combination of dragging window around where the center of the window is the deadly part and maybe rolling a cylinder back and forth across the desk. (I guess you could imagine the view port is wrapped around the cylinder and the part against the desk is the part I see.. and extrapolate from there to a ball.)

For me though, flight always inverted, first person mouse or right analog stick always Y-forward is up. Third person right analog stick I have no preferences for since that thing has done so many things over the years that I’m okay moving the camera or the character.

The first mouselook 3d game I played was… I honestly can’t remember, it must have been Quake 1 or Duke3D but I’m sure I was using keyboard to look up and down on those games when I first played them.

Up until then the only games I played where you could usefully look up and down were flight sims and space sims and whatever Descent is. I could see how going from those to a game that was Y-forward down might set things but I’ve never even played Goldeneye.
posted by yonega at 8:21 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

I have the track wheel on my mouse set backward to most people, I think. Most computers I use have the wheel set to you scroll down by rolling away from you. I think because the metaphor is that you are scrolling the side “how long is this page” marker DOWN the page and toward you is somehow down.

The metaphor is that you are reading from top to bottom so you scroll down the page to read more of it.
posted by ODiV at 8:22 PM on February 28

Ah! I still prefer to push the text up the page.
posted by hippybear at 8:26 PM on February 28
I’m a mammal conditioned to react to stimuli so I’m getting a kick out of these replies
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:40 PM on February 28
This is also an issue in broadcast TV when remote-controlled cameras are used. Some facilities invert and other don’t and going between them makes live broadcasts super exciting.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 10:54 PM on February 28
I would think the remoting of how a broadcast television camera is aimed would directly translate to either both inverted (IMO, preferably) or both not, given that the camera sits on a gimble (and is directed from the rear).

I have a very strong sense memory of this from my one, abortive attempt to operate a studio broadcast television video camera during my local PBS station’s live fundraising telethon. I was so jumpy from the director’s impatience for haste, I anticipated and performed a large and fast repositioning while my camera was still live. That was 38 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:06 PM on February 28

This whole Y axis inversion thing sounds a lot like “using a trackball” to me. No wonder it smells like beans in here.

In all seriousness, inverted joystick for life, thanks. Even X axis inversion was great until games started using the joystick as a virtual mouse cursor, making for a nightmare of mode confusion.
posted by wierdo at 12:26 AM on February 29

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