Left-out: From computer game configs to tin-opening

Ciara Del Grosso Bates on the every-day challenges faced by 10% of the population who happen to be lefties

Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

Photograph: iStockphoto/Getty Images

 
What if I told you there is a condition affecting 10 per cent of the population, causing awkwardness, discomfort and forcing us to alter our natural behaviour- but its existence, let alone inconvenience, is largely ignored. It’s not a bad condition. It doesn’t need research or aid. In reality, it does nothing to those born with it.
 
But the world is designed for the other 90 per cent, meaning everyday life is shifted towards their comfort and away from the other 10 per cent.
 
From ticket barriers to notebooks, desks to utensils, tools to digital devices.
 
I’m talking, of course, about left-handedness.
 
Many of the inconveniences for lefties are inevitable: the ticket reader must be on one side of the barrier, why not the side convenient to most? And there are special tools designed for the lefty.
 
Valid points, imaginary right-hander, if you ignore the cost and scarcity of Leftorium wares, the space needed to stock shared homes with two of everything, and trouble distinguishing between righty and lefty versions in cluttered cupboards. Better get online, see if there’s a left-handed label-maker. Now you’re THAT housemate.
 
With everyday utensils, I get by OK. By the time I heard about left-handed scissors, I was competent with the “normal” version and it felt weird to change. But I’m pathetic with a tin opener.
 
Not all lefties cope equally - our abilities vary wildly from the Ned Flanders’ on one end, unable to open soup in someone else’s home, to those who seem immune to the disadvantage, aside from an inky writing hand.
 
We get by- with some inconvenience- but sometimes there’s an infuriating lack of consideration for the one-in-ten sinister-siders. Oddly, given the obsession with user experience, it’s particularly common in device design.
 
Now, you can buy a lefty keyboard/mouse, essentially doing away with every computer problem. But how many computers do you use? Using keyboard and mouse are background habits that become second nature, inverting the buttons regularly isn’t an option. Anyone who has used a computer abroad knows the frustration of accidentally typing apostrophes when you want the @ symbol, or finding some letters are switched around and you're stuck typing with one finger and both eyes fixed on the keyboard.
 
You can’t left-click at home and right-click elsewhere- it’s too confusing, I’ve tried.
 
To reconfigure every mouse you use, or carry a keyboard to work, public places, shared home PCs, college… is too messy, for you and the user after you. Most lefties I've met do what I do- plonk the mouse down on the left side of the keyboard and ignore the imperfect ergonomics.
 
The impact is far greater with smaller devices, particularly if used with one hand.
 
The iPhone 6 is one device which didn't stop to consider southpaws. In 2015, users complained that holding the phone landscape switched controls to the right side of the screen- putting them out of reach of left thumbs. Lefties also said that answering calls was made more difficult, and one Nordic study showed a bias in antenna design meaning iPhone users holding the phone with the left hand may have a weaker signal. (This is not exclusive to the iPhone but it performed particularly badly.)
 
Aside from the antenna issue, Apple don't need to physically move buttons around. It’s all programmable. But so far, the complaints of the 10% have been ignored.
 
And then, there's gaming.
 
Lefty PC gamers can expect anything from absolute freedom to change game controls to utter unplayability. In real-time gaming, speed is essential and usually the dominant hand looks around or aims a weapon and the weaker hand moves the character around using the keyboard. 
 
Both hands may also reach for item selection, crouching, jumping, or interacting with the game world. The standard setup is designed for the right-handed gamer, usually with options to change the controls to suit your preference. But sometimes, there isn't.
 
By far the worst experience I’ve had was Bethesda’s blockbuster, Fallout 4.  
 
At its launch, Bethesda shipped 12 million copies worldwide. It was hugely anticipated by loyal fans of the series, including me.
 
But (aside from a pathetic attempt using frozen peas to keep my old PC cool enough to play for 8 minutes before shutting down), I didn’t get to play until recently, when I got a new computer. Finally, I loaded the game and prepared to be immersed in the post-apocalyptic world I’ve known since I was 15.
 
As a lefty, my first stop was remapping the keys. Arrows for movement instead of WASD, for starters.
 
I went on my post-apocalyptic way, cleared the vault of pests and picked up, as is my habit, every piece of junk I saw.
 
Then, an early mission: building a home for some ungrateful survivors I’d rescued and escorted somewhere safe. Finally! All that junk I lugged around would come in handy.
 
But entering the new build mode, it was unplayable. Although I previously remapped the keys to suit my needs, in build mode, my choices were overridden. I couldn’t move.
 
If I tried to use the righty controls here, it didn’t work either, because the game still listened to my reconfigured keys for other actions. So, two choices: either force myself to play right-handedly (would you relearn to play the guitar with the other hand after 13 years?) or find a way to make it work, dammit.
 
There were pockets of lefty resistance online, in forums. But nobody offered a solution besides learning to play right-handed. Many said they just gave up on the game. But the “learn the right way” approach is not just a big learning curve, it’s also unnecessary in many other games, including previous Fallout. For those who aren’t utterly devoted to the franchise, “give up” was the most reasonable answer. 
 
And that’s very short-sighted of Bethesda.
 
This was discussed when the game was released in 2015. Users complained Bethesda had just ignored a chunk of its audience. In December 2015, there were 2.4 million Fallout 4 players on Steam- possibly a quarter of a million lefties playing with a Bethesda-coded handicap. Or maybe they had given up already. Expansion packs and updates were released, each one an opportunity to fix the control issue. But the issue hasn’t even been acknowledged.
 
Bethesda allows you to sculpt your face, customise weapons, choose gender, clothe your dog, spell your name in lights, even name your armour. But you can’t play left-handed without sacrifice.
 
I eventually found a way: I configured the number pad (not every keyboard has one) to move around using 5, 1, 2, and 3. I still had to use standard build controls and lost the “favourite” keys- meaning every time I wanted to switch weapons or use an item mid-fight, I had to pause and root around in my inventory. Not great for an immersive game experience, but playable.
 
Yet again, the left-hander found a way to cope. But why should anyone who pays for a game of this scale need a workaround to just play? And how many would be willing to work for it like I did, I who first played the game with a bag of frozen peas on my lap? 
 
This isn’t a ticket barrier or a tin opener: Developers don’t have to pick a side.  And in a world obsessed with user experience and interface design, why should lefties have to put up with anything worse than an inky hand?
 
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