It's human nature to want to break things down into easy-to-understand binaries: Introvert or extrovert. Gay or straight. Republican or Democrat. Autobot or Decepticon. And in video gaming, one of the greatest binaries of all is defined by how a player likes his or her right thumbstick: Regular or inverted?
For those of us who invert, the world can be a cruel, uncaring place. Every game assumes we don't exist, and to get comfortable, we have to pause their exciting introductory sequences and dig around in menus, desperate for the option to make the game play how we'd prefer. But! One glorious day, a hero emerged. Microsoft and the Xbox 360 decided to change everything. With a single global preference setting, they made the world a better place for thumbstick-inverters like me.
The right thumbstick is traditionally how you look around in a video game. In third-person games, it's assigned to the "camera" that invisibly follows the player-character around. In first-person games, it's assigned to your character's "head," letting you look around and aim where you're going (or shooting) next. (First-person-shooter characters don't traditionally have flexible necks—they are always pointing their entire torso wherever they're looking. We learn to go with it.)
In most games, when you press "up" on the right thumbstick, the camera looks up. But if you prefer to play with an inverted camera (or, more specifically, an inverted y-axis), you want the opposite to be true: Press up, and the camera looks down.
As a lifelong inverter, I am endlessly aware of my minority status. With each new game I play, I get a small reminder that I'm not the "default"—I run around, head pointing straight at the ground, and beat a hasty retreat to the options menu. Such injustice!
I'm not sure why I invert. I grew up playing PC games, and I'd never invert the mouse in a first-person shooter. I think maybe it's due to all the time I spent playing TIE Fighter and X-Wing with a PC flightstick; I came to think of joysticks as things that you inverted. (That's my theory, anyway.) When Halo happened and the dual-thumbstick FPS as we know it officially arrived on consoles, I was already stuck in my inverted-Y-axis ways.
The cause of my inversion condition is less important than the small but regularly annoying effect it has on my gaming. It has a minor but nonetheless notable impact on every game's very first moments, which are usually when a game is setting the mood. It's hard to set the mood when I'm looking at the floor, pausing the game in the middle of an NPC's sentence, inverting the camera, going back, realizing that I didn't hit "apply," pausing it again, inverting the camera, hitting "apply," then starting to play the game properly. Sure, some games allow me to access the options menu before starting the game. But not all of them. (And, okay, sometimes I forget.)
And yet my Xbox 360 always remembers that I invert my thumbstick. Microsoft made it a requirement that all games let the console go in and, based on the assigned preference of the user's Xbox Live profile, re-assign the thumbstick automatically. If you are currently saying, "Whoa, I didn't know I could do that!" well, I am so happy to have told you about this! You can find it under Settings > Profile > Game Defaults > Action.
I love the Xbox 360 for this. When I start a new game, I can simply play, without worrying about whether or not the camera will betray me. The PS3 doesn't let me do this; I have to adjust the camera with every game. It was less of an issue with the Wii, since motion-controlled games tend to feel better to me non-inverted.
A global inversion setting may seem like a small, or even inconsequential note on which to start our Last-Gen Heroes series. But really, that kind of smart, user-friendly idea is the sort of thing I'd love to see more of from all game hardware makers.
Believe me, if you'd had to suffer through the entire opening sequence of Resident Evil 6 before finally being able to set the camera how you like it, you'd feel the same way.
Last-Gen Heroes is Kotaku's look back at the seventh generation of console gaming. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, we'll be celebrating the Heroes—and the Zeroes—of the last eight years of console video gaming. More details can be found here; follow along with the series here.