For Science: Researchers investigate why some players invert their directional controls


When you have an analog stick to control the camera, does pushing the stick forward tilt the camera up or down? The Guardian published a whole piece about inverting the Y-axis on controls, and the discussion around it prompted researchers to sit up and say “hey, this is actually a field worth studying.” So now that study is happening under the watchful eye of Drs. Jennifer Corbett and Jaap Munneke at Brunel University London.

As Corbett explained, the nature of the global pandemic has meant that many usual avenues of research have not been available for experimentation. It’s also an area with clear and passionate participants on both sides of the debate, but it’s a largely unexplored field that could produce some interesting data regarding how participants manipulate three-dimensional objects.

The study will be “measuring how fast and accurately people are able to mentally rotate shapes and the extent to which they rely on different body and contextual cues when making spatial judgments,” Corbett says. “There are no right or wrong answers in these tasks – we’re interested in how people might perform differently.” Ideally, the experiments will reveal insight into human perception (and not just whether you in fact suck at flight sims). It could even help real pilots and UI designers.

“Most research focuses on how people pay attention to individual objects, but humans can’t really process more than a few details at once. There’s a gaping hole in our knowledge regarding how our visual perception is heavily dependent on the rest of this vast majority of sensory information. Being able to predict how a person will interact within a given environment or context can bring about monumental advancements in technology.”

So if you’ve never understood why people would invert the Y-axis on controls – or why people wouldn’t do that – the good news is that scientific progress will soon be made.

Source: The Guardian

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Pretty much as I expected, it is a question of how you mentally regard the camera. Do you perceive it as You are the object/avatar or do perceive it as You manipulate the object/avatar.

“From a cognitive perspective, players who don’t invert are ‘acting as’ the avatar, with movement/steering originating from between the avatar’s eyes, controlling the camera,” says Dr Jennifer Corbett, a lecturer in psychology at Brunel University London’s Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. “Players who invert are ‘acting on’ the avatar, with the controls either behind or on top of the head controlling the avatar.”


Just wait till you start ignoring ‘up and down’ perception altogether in space, because gravity is what keeps you attached and perceiving a ‘surface’ (Zero-G), and bulkheads become uniform because you could be walking on a ‘ceiling’ or a ‘wall’ (With mag-boots) and it doesn’t really matter for orientation otherwise. My brain always had fun with those concepts.

Where this type of control scheme matters, is orienting direction, and ‘gimbals’ essentially allow you to ‘orient’…but what you’re deciding is which direction to push yourself/use thrust to aim yourself there.

This is where even a joystick presents a problem, because it only accounts for half of those directions (Look out on what you see/envision what’s behind you on your ‘surface’, then think about how that whole perceived space should also have a flipped side UNDER it that is just the same amount of space…that underside is not factored with joysticks.), unless you flip yourself totally over, then it reorients it. If you’re using propellent, you are wasting some to not just go in the direction you really intended, but to orient yourself facing there, and then go. This is research that could perhaps even help with that…


As has been mentioned by other people, years of flight sims and space combat games. Years of PES also means I have to play FIFA on the ‘alternate controls’ setting.


I’d be more interested in finding out why some people become insanely angry when encountering someone who uses the opposing interface preference. And yes, I’ve had “discussions” with such people. Usually when I ask if it’s possible to invert the Y-axis, and they apparently start gnawing their own face off in rage at the thought that *anyone* would do that. (Usually the answer is “no, the devs haven’t added that option yet” by the way. Often spiked with “And I hope they never do.”)

Chosenxeno .

I don’t invert my controls but I was just explaining to a guy why he shouldn’t continue to use The Stinky Footboard because they no longer make them. Muscle memory is a b*tch(I’m assuming this is why a lot of People use inverted controls).

Luckily invert controls are typically a software issue. Beware of how you train your muscle emory in games if it’s peripheral specific. Otherwise you might need 5 PS Navs like I do( lol I am addicted).

Also, I would lke to know why if I’m Flying Inverter Controls feel natural but in FPS or Shooters it feels weird.


Just speaking for myself, I know that the main reason is my first games in the 1980s were flight simulators. Flight Simulator, F-15 Strike Eagle, some Apache helicopter game. Those instincts just got wired in early, and since most games have supported it I’ve never been able to retrain my brain away from it

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mike foster

^ flying games made inversion make the most sense and it’s hard to unlearn

Tee Parsley

I started playing games on someone else computer. They played a lot of Flight games. Just used their setup, and got my reflexes set to inverted.

The worst, for me, is trying to switch back and forth. So I stay inverted.

Andrew Schwartz

Xwing games did it it me. Now I have to invert controls. My kids think it’s funny.


Exactly this.


Seriously? Someone needed to ‘research’ this.

* If a player is, or has been, mainly a Flight Sim player, up means pull control back. Down means push the control forward.

* If a player has NOT been a Flight Sim player, then up means push the control forward. Down means pull the control back.

It is tough to switch, but I did it. Used to be Flight Sim oriented, now am the other way. And, yes, I know some folks have always played flight games in the ‘non-realistic’ mode. But, if you have used joystick extensively, well then you play in Sim mode pretty much.

I make no judgement on which is better, or which is ‘correct’. Just observing the pointlessness of such ‘research’. Money better spent elsewhere, I think.

Tee Parsley

‘Everyone knows this.’

The scientific world has had a number of research projects that contradict ‘common knowledge’.


I love the quotations around ‘research’ here. As if the fields of visual perception and user experience are just made-up. Granted, this topic is really niche in those fields but it’s not pointless. Just in the article, the scientists mention it could help understand how pilots digest information when flying. Here’s two potential ways this research, or further research in this area could help:

1. Let’s say you’re designing the controls of an airborne vehicle that does not, or cannot, use a joystick for some reason. What type of controls would you design? It might be helpful to know why some people prefer or do not prefer inverted controls as a base principle.

2. I bet there’s a subset of all humans that prefer inverted controls (I’m one of them and I’ve never played a flight sim). 5%? 10%? It could be useful to know and it appears no one does. Your hypothesis about flight sim players is likely wrong. There’s probably plenty of people who natively prefer one or the other. This research wouldn’t determine how many, but it’s building within the same underdeveloped topic. Knowing this data could help with the design of all sorts of things, or even determine if it’s worth designing for inverted users at all.

Rodrigo Dias Costa

Actually, there are quite a lot of “useless” research being made every time. And while most of the time it seems it doesn’t need to be researched, there are some of them that brings interesting and useful new knowledge about related and seemingly unrelated topics.


I’m pretty sure the only difference is that some people subconsciously think of it as controlling the camera, while others think of it as controlling view direction.

Either way, I can’t wait for these “scientific” studies to find some amazing correlation between camera settings and mental health after asking their 20 participants how their weekend has been.