Why does Mario run left to right? It’s never been a question I have asked. Mario always runs from left to right. Anything else just doesn’t feel right.
But, Lancaster University psychologist Peter Walker decided to dive a bit deeper into why Super Mario runs from left to right.
Turns out, we may all have a fundamental bias for left to right movement.
“What artistic conventions are used to convey the motion of animate and inanimate items in still images, such as drawings and photographs? One graphic convention involves depicting items leaning forward into their movement, with greater leaning conveying greater speed. Another convention, revealed in the present study, involves depicting items moving from left to right,” said Walker.
While the left to right bias appears in motion, it doesn’t apply to objects or people not moving.
Walker added, “whereas a rightward bias is found for photographs of animate and inanimate items in motion (more so the faster is the motion being conveyed), either no bias or a leftward bias is found for the same items in static pose. This could indicate a fundamental left-to-right bias for visual motion.”
The left to right bias also shows up in typography. Italics are often used to convey motion and speed. This same left to right bias even shows up in italic fonts in Hebrew, where readers scan from right to left.
“It was the inspection of the availability of italic fonts in Hebrew that suggested an additional artistic convention for conveying motion, based on a fundamental bias, confirmed in the present study, for people to expect to see, or prefer to see, lateral movement (real or implied) in a left to right direction, rather than a right to left direction.”
It’s interesting to see how the left to right bias remains intact with italic fonts in Hebrew. Like Hebrew, Japanese is also read right to left (top-bottom,right-left). Yet, Nintendo designers created Mario with a left to right bias.
The full paper is restricted, but you can read the abstract here.