Thursday, 14 May 2015

I Am the Only Person in the World Who Holds the Controller This Way

Now, this post is a funny one but I want to express my wonders why nobody else does this. Let's have a look at this:

I'm the bloke to the left, chilling on the bed.

The - horrendously nerdy - photograph above was taken in March 2010, when I met some online friends to have a good time and play video games. We were all in our late teens or early 20s. While my hair and sense for clothing has changed quite a bit by now, one thing remained the same: The way I hold the controller.

Just look at my excited expression!

Now, why would I dedicate a blog entry to this matter? One of the most obvious reasons is: Because I haven't met anybody else - except for one person - who holds their controller like that. This wouldn't surprise me at all, if it were a very uncomfortable way. Yet, I honestly see more good than bad in it. It's like everybody assumes, you hold the controller the exact same way as them and as such you can complain about controls, which might feel uncomfortable for this, standardized holding. Like here: that there were more than two different kinds of monster per realm and if It didn't have to hold down the left trigger to target things and press the left shoulder button to cast magic because trying to press both those buttons at the same time is a manoeuvre not terribly considerate of the average number of fingers on a hand. So you can either leave yourself at the mercy of a camera system that would have you eternally menace the area slightly to the left of the guy you're trying to hit or you staple a chipolata to your index finger. (Croshaw 2012)

You do realize, that you have a middle finger, Yahtzee, don't you? Well, I didn't have that problem when playing Darksiders 2.

Having been a Nintendoboy in my youth, I started using this "technique", when I got a Gamecube. This was my first console, where the controller had more than one shoulder button. On one side at least. And yes, my left index finger didn't even rest on a button, as I held it symmetrical. This wasn't at all a conscious decision, it just kind of happened and felt natural to me. One possible explanation I can come up with is that I got lazy, switching the finger over from R to Z all the time and hence decided to just rest fingers on both buttons permanently. This carried over to the Nunchuck controller of the Wii, and eventual other, non-Nintendo controllers.

Until now, I didn't encounter a single problem deriving from this habit. Quite the opposite! My right index finger is now in reach for some occasional usage I have for it, like when my thumb is using the right stick for the camera, but I need to press a face button. This is, in fact, a technique I ironically learned while playing Darksiders. I simply let my index finger slide down and use it to press the required button. Feels a bit strange at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly. Or, my thumb has to hold down one of the face buttons, but I want to adjust the camera without stopping to walk. In this case, the right index finger comes down again, crosses the thumb and moves the right stick. Feels very strange at first, but eventually I got used to this, as well.

Of course, these are exceptional cases but it got me thinking: "Are our current controllers the end of the evolution of controllers?" Not being in total control of all the available buttons in any combination you could wish to make doesn't sound like absolutely flawless to me. In fact, game developers even have to adapt to game controller holding habits just so players don't have to bend their fingers awkwardly in their game. And don't get me started on disabled players, who lost a finger or more or were born with deformed hands! Maybe we got stuck into this design for a way too long time. I mean, it hasn't changed very much since the original DualShock. A d-pad left, a control stick on each side, four face buttons right, two shoulder buttons, whereas the one behind is analogue. I am not a designer, but I assume this design can be optimized in a lot of ways we haven't even thought about yet. The closest thing to a current generation revamp attempt resembles the Steam controller, but that has was changed back to a more conventional design last year. According to the photographs, I should be able to continue my holding habit there without any trouble though.

In the end, the only disadvantage I see, is that it feels even less authentic to pull a trigger of a virtual gun with the controller, whereas I always use keyboard and mouse for fps controls anyway. Otherwise, I feel more comfortable to have more control over the controller (as you should have, because it's called a controller) which might derive from my existence as an instrumentalist. I mean, flutists for example use almost all of their fingers for buttons and they don't complain, right?

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