I’ve spent some time pondering left-handedness in gaming. I am left handed myself, and I never thought about it much in relation to gaming. However, recently after listening to a few discussions about diversity and representation in games of many different races, sexual orientations, genders, etc. I noticed that Left-Handedness is always something often over-looked in the equation.
There’s two problems to this: Left Handed Accessibility, and Left Handed Representation. Reasons are probably vast; the market of people who give a shit is probably pretty small. Left handed people don’t really have a culture to look to. We have a history, the short version of which is it was seen as (up until relatively recently) was viewed as something that should be corrected. Often in schools left handed kids were usually forced to write and force development with their right hand because this was the norm. And the norm is good and wholesome. At some point, the forcible changing of left handed kids ceased and now we have a world where it’s just “okay you’re left handed. Who cares?” We have woes; they are usually small, and nit picky. Like notebooks, with the sprials on the left side so that our hands dig into them as we write. Or with pencils and you end up with a hand bottom full of graphite. Scissors are a problem for some lefties, and can openers. Those right arm desks in school and when you sit down it’s just, “Oh. No support for my writing arm today!” The pens attached to debit card machines or bank chains are often on the wrong side and are too short. These are all things that are minor inconveniences in my life as a lefty.
Lefties and Hardware
Where video games come in, like I mentioned above, I feel left handed issues are kind of a new thing. For me it all started with the DS. The DS introduced a stylus which created its own set of issues. If you think back to any game with stylus control, Kid Icarus Uprising, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass, among many, many others, are nigh unplayable for me, and I imagine many lefties. “Left-Handed Modes” are often just, hold your stylus in your left hand, but are forced to use the face buttons for movement/dpad functionality. It’s a very frustrating system because your lefty brain, if you’re a gamer, is used to the way a controller feels. The movement stick/dpad is on the left, face buttons on the right. Being asked to use the face buttons for this is almost as jarring as using the stylus in my right hand.
An interesting aside: the Wii Mote/Nunchuk combo could be used in a left hand Wii Mote, Right hand Nunchuk way, which would make it “more natural” as a left handed person. However, since I’ve played video games since the NES, the dpad always being on the left, makes me want to hold the Nunchuk in my left hand. Games with pointing however, I often use the Wii mote in my left. Games with both pointing and nunchuk controls like Skyward Sword I find to be the hardest to play because my brain is conflicted. It’s sort of interesting to think about how gamepad layouts since the NES have always been movement on the left hand, action on the right hand, and they will probably always be this way. Anyone who is left handed has played games like this for years, and at this point it’s a learned behavior and handedness has nothing to do really with controller layout. Until the DS came in and ruined it.
Left Handed Characters; a Look Back
(Probably Final Fantasy IV spoilers)
Here’s the thing; poking around in the historical catacombs of all things video games, you can find a fair amount of left handed characters. Most of them are even the ‘heroes’ (everyone is surprised) What you find is a lot of characters appear to be ambidextrous because of programming.
On a system level, instead of including two separate sets of sprites for each facing of the character, they just flipped the sprite on a horizontal access. What you end up with is a Mega Man that appears to hold his Buster in both hands. This happened with many characters. However, Mega Man is one of the left handed champions, appearing with the Buster in his left hand on box art for Mega Man. After a time, officially he had his Buster in his left hand full time in games like Mega Man 7, and in later appearances like in Super Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS.
Link is an interesting left-handed hero just in terms of his course over the years. It makes you think about how all of the Legend of Zelda games connect on a universe level. Link also falls victim to the sprite flipping, even on the Super Nintendo, his A Link to the Past sprite also flips on the axis. Interesting to note, Link’s sprite is only holding the sword in his right hand on right-facing sprites. His up and down facing sprites are both holding the sword in his left hand. Over the years, many iterations of Link have been left handed: Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess (GC version), all of the Super Smash Bros. Links. The 8-bit and 16-bit links as well if you discount his right-facing sprites.
Skyward Sword Link remains an outsider.
He is the only Link to be entirely right-handed, many blame this on the wii-mote as a control scheme, but lore-wise he is his own Link, odds are one of them would be right-handed. Twilight Princess is interesting, as the Gamecube version is a left-handed Link while the Wii version is a right-handed Link. This is only blamed on the wii-mote, but it sort of leaves us in a pickle lore wise. All of that Twilight Princess nonsense aside, Link is traditionally known as a left-handed hero. Looking back, I’m not even sure I like The Legend of Zelda games as much as I thought I did. But I have distinct memories of playing Ocarina of Time as a child, and the sheer novelty of a left-handed character saving the day really stuck with me.
Our last, and probably the most interesting left-handed hero is Kain Highwind from Final Fantasy IV. The left-handed Spear wielding Dragoon Knight comes into the party and then appears to betray you. This is interesting, as this is sort of a left-handed trope. Traditionally (like going back to Latin meanings, traditionally) left is often associated with things like, the Devil, evil, betrayal. As a result, many villains in literature are often left-handed, and this trope has carried on in video games.
So why can’t I be left-handed?
As I have mentioned, I am left-handed. A lot of my complaints about the lack of left-handed representation comes in with games where you create a character, and first person games especially bother me.
It seems as though in many games where you can equip items in either hand, you are penalized for putting your weapon in your left hand. Many games on some system level assumes that you are right handed, and therefore wielding weapons in your left hand is bad gameplay wise. Often your damage is cut by an astonishing amount, or you’re so unskilled with your left hand that you tend to miss very frequently. In Skyrim, for example, wielding a weapon in your left hand reduces its damage. Equipping a shield (an off-hand item) cannot be put in your right hand. The same holds true for the World of Warcraft, another game which this bothers me.
In games where it’s all about making a character and putting them in this vast world, full of trolls, goblins, magic, and dragons. And I can’t put a sword in my left hand like I want to is incredibly frustrating. When you’re playing a role-playing game and you can’t be someone you identify with is very disheartening. I imagine this is spark of all debates surrounding representation of all sorts of people in games. At a certain point it becomes hard to include everything, I imagine. But I don’t know of any games where you can actively even choose to be left-handed. I can be a tiger-person though.
My other problem is with FPS games. I’m not a gun person, I don’t know how to use a real gun. I know in games like Call of Duty, you fire from your right hip, and then pull the gun in from the right up to your “eye” which is just the middle of the screen. For me though? I find something very jarring with the gun on the right, and then it pulling in from the right. The disconnect between what I think I should be doing, (I.E., pulling the gun in from the left) and then what I see on the screen is usually startling. Like I’m looking in some kind of mirror box, so I then lose my place in the game. I’ll find myself turning in the wrong direction from what I mean. Maybe this is the reason I don’t play these games more than I do now. Would swapping the gun from the right to left really make a difference? Probably not.
Here concludes the ramblings of an unsatisfied left-handed gamer. Whether it’s controller schemes that don’t work for me, or my left-handed hero Link getting changed to be right handed in his later entries. How I can’t be left handed in games like Skryim or World of Warcraft and how I get penalized for trying. I don’t want to backseat develop, but in so many games where trying to be left-handed leads to penalties, and how they had to spend time programming this in, at least give me the option to say “I am left-handed. I am proud.”