Monday, September 24, 2012

Does Leaning Forward Really Make You Play Better?

By Gusana
I've played enough video games and watched enough people play to know that leaning forward means you're getting serious. When you lean forward, it means you need to focus, get into the game, and be ready for anything. But does leaning forward really help you play better? I put this question to my regular Smash Bros. playing buddy and we decided to put this myth to the test, scientifically. 

I first asked the GameFaqs community whether they played better leaning forward or not. Of course, this only shows what the perceived benefit of leaning forward is and not any actual results.

Do you play better leaning forward or sitting back? - Results (40 votes)
Leaning forward
(13) 32.5%

Sitting back
(4) 10%

Sitting straight up
(2) 5%

I haven't noticed
(12) 30%

It depends on the situation
(9) 22.5%

From these results, all we can really see is what it looks like, so I won't bother restating the the statistics, but it at least confirms that the belief that leaning forward helps you play better is pretty widespread. Also of note was that 22.5% of people believed that they played better while leaning forward but only in certain situations. We only received one comment, but it was that they thought they played better sitting back when they were ahead, but did better leaning forward when they were behind. My Smash Bros. buddy seemed to agree with this notion as well and tends to lean forward only when necessary to make a comeback. This situational difference is a bit harder to test for so... we just didn't.

But let's get into the actual experiment and my results. I challenged my friend to a series of matches in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (with Brawl+ for balance and the removal of random tripping). We played without items, three stock with a seven minute time limit, and on Final Destination.

On the left of the chart below, you can see which characters we used (I switched from Olimar since the matchup seemed to be bad and his Up+B is less consistent for recovery than other characters). The numbers designate who won and by how much. In typical myth busting fashion, we collected criminally few data points and confused things by switching characters part way through the experiment. Though really, switching characters shouldn't affect the results if leaning forward is universally beneficial.
A's Remaining lives - B's Remaining Lives
A Sitting Back A Leaning Forward B Sitting Back B Leaning Forward
Sheik/Olimar 2-0 2-0
Sheik/Olimar 2-0 2-0
Sheik/Zelda 0-1 1-0
Sheik/Zelda 0-1 0-2
Sheik/Zelda 1-0 0-2
ZSS/Zelda 1-0 0-1
ZSS/Zelda 0-1 2-0
Total: 5-2 5-4 1-1 2-1

The results were that there was no significant difference between sitting back and leaning forward. Participant A tended to do better than participant B regardless of the situation and, in fact, both A and B did slightly worse while leaning forward, though this may be within the margin of error.

So why might gamers tend to lean forward while playing? Humans aren't designed with video games in mind, but we are designed with survival in mind. In "the wild", leaning forward might help you see better or get ready to pounce and it's a possibility that this same instinct may be activating during gaming sessions, even though its effect is negligible in that situation. But, you know, that's just speculation and stuff.

Since we only tested two people, it is possible that only certain people are able to reap the hypothetical benefits of leaning forward. It may be the case that some people are simply more comfortable sitting back or leaning forward, but even though I would identify myself as one who usually sits back and my friend as one who usually leans forward, our results were the same. It's also possible that leaning forward only helps during certain games or certain genres, but since we believe Smash Bros. is the only game that matters, we're going to call this myth...
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