You may have noticed that whether it’s a classic from the 1990s or a modern-day endless runner, video games usually scroll in the same direction — left to right. New research from academics at Lancaster University in the UK suggests that we have a fundamental bias towards side-scrolling action that happens in that direction.
Psychologist Dr Peter Walker, who has published his findings in the scholarly journal Perception, inspected thousands of items through Google Images as part of the research. Put simply, people prefer it when objects and characters move from the left to the right.
“One graphic convention involves depicting items leaning forward into their movement, with greater leaning conveying greater speed,” says Dr Walker. “Another convention, revealed in the present study, involves depicting items moving from left to right.” What’s more, this rightward bias becomes more pronounced the faster the motion gets.
However, it’s a different matter when it comes to people or objects that are stationary. “Either no bias or a leftward bias is found for the same items in static pose,” explains Dr Walker. “This could indicate a fundamental left-to-right bias for visual motion.”
Italicized text is another example of the way left-to-right bias is used to emphasize speed or urgency — italics are even used in writings that are read from right to left, like Hebrew.
So there you have it: It’s down to the way our eyes and brains work in perceiving motion. The thought of an endless runner scrolling from right to left does indeed feel very wrong.