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Left-Handed Gaming

About left-handed gamers and why you should care about them.

There are left-handed people. "Of course!", I hear you say. Lefties also play games. "That's obvious!", you reply...and you are right. Yet, have you ever given it any thought? I, for one, didn't, until recently. Since then I did some research and noticed: nobody seems have given it any thought, except for lefties themselves. Their consensus seems to be that the game industry doesn't care about them and, as I see it, they are right. With this writing I want to bring some attention to those who are in plain sight, yet overlooked.

Why should we care?

From a designers perspective: Because games are for everyone, they should be enjoyed by everyone and as designers we want people to enjoy our games. For that is the very reason we make games.
From a business perspective: Because the amount of left-handed people is massive. Different sources give you different numbers, it seems to be somewhere between 10% and 30%. That means between 1/10 to 1/3 of your customers have trouble with your product. How could you possibly ignore them?

What is the problem?

This is what brought my attention to the topic:, a simple web-comic by a German artist, who happens to be left-handed and a gamer. In it she complains about not being able to change the standard WASD keybindings for The Witcher 3, which makes it hard, if not impossible, to play the game. Ever tried to use WASD and action keys like e, f, r or g and the spacebar with your right hand? Of course not, why would you, unless you are left-handed. To all the right-handers out there: give it a try, tell me how you did. I can hardly do it. Sure, if you try hard enough, you can make it work, but it just doesn't compare to the comfort you have using WASD with your left hand.
Not being able to rebind these settings was fixed in a recent patch, though. So problem solved, right? Wrong. The problem is not that you weren't able to rebind the settings, the problem is that the game industry isn't aware of left-handed gamers. If we were, it would never occur to us to not let people rebind the keys for our games. What's even more worrisome: There is absolutely no standard alternative for lefties. Imagine every game you want to play requires you to go to the options and change the keybindings of a game you haven't even played yet. If that was me, I'd be super annoyed, might even back away from PC gaming altogether.

What is the solution?

The solution is in fact very simple: Come up with standard left-handed settings and implement them in our upcoming games. We might not be able to get it down perfectly on the first or second try, but it is important that we start somewhere. In the aforementioned comic the artist states the she wants to play with a PL;' setup. Another alternative could be IJKL, but don't ask me, ask the people who actually went to the trouble and rebound the settings for Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Call of Duty, Battlefield, The Witcher and many more.

Final Thoughts

If you research the topic a little, you will find that for a long time natural lefties were forced to use their right hand, and that this is common practice to this day in many regions of the world. The reasons for this are really arbitrary, like being left-handed is bad luck. This re-education can have severe effects however. They range from having trouble focusing to damaging your memory and your self-esteem. Only now are we beginning to see these problems.
I reckon that this re-education is also the cause for us right-handers to be unaware of our left-handed fellows, because it decreases the number of them we see in our every-day lives. I hope that we, as an industry, can help fix this lamentable state of affairs and show the world that it doesn't matter if you are men or women, black or white, gay or straight or left- or right-handed.

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