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Hands Off: Why Mouse/Keyboard can’t Compete with Controllers

This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

I love nearly everything about PC gaming.  The open-ended nature of the platform makes it feel alive. We were only introduced a few weeks ago, but already my habits are radically changing. Steam is now my favorite retailer on Earth, I nitpick about game performance, and every little thing must be customized to my liking. Console gaming is becoming progressively less appealing to me. However, I can’t abandon traditional controllers. A mouse/keyboard set-up just can’t compare. Now before older PC elitists burn me at the stake, let me make my case.

The mouse/keyboard are dated technology, designed for non-gaming purposes. A keyboard is merely an evolution of typewriters, which served as mechanical scribes since the 1860s. Conversely, mice were invented in the 1970s to simplify computer navigation for tech illiterates. Bearing these facts in mind, why do gamers now use them as puppet strings? Mouse/keyboard combinations are clearly office tools. Each time a developer creates a control layout for mouse/keyboard, it’s a retro-fit.  Rather than working with them, developers must work around them. Even with hotkeys and remapping, keyboards are often clumsy. Only piano players have sufficient dexterity to game with them. Mice, on the other hand, ruin UI. They are a large reason videogames still copy Windows. Microsoft created the cleanest template for mouse interaction, now developers are reluctant to betray its successful formula. Unfortunately, it is meshing progressively worse with our increasingly cinematic games.

Above: Where’s the crouch button?

Controllers were designed specifically for gaming. Through decades of intelligent iteration, they have become simple to use. Even with gamepads featuring almost twenty buttons, gamers can adjust to unique layouts in minutes. If controls are well executed, I forget the instrument exists. The gamepad seamlessly disappears into the ergonomics of my hands. It has become a natural extension, with my fingers performing an intricate ballet of button-presses. Missteps are inevitable, yet developers are making constant refinements. Gamepads are trying to do more with less. Minimalism is spreading to every aspect of our medium. I think the fabled “perfect controller” is not far off. It would accommodate any genre of game, including complex RTSs and RPGs.

If nothing else, the aforementioned genres work better with mouse/keyboard. I would be a moron to deny that. Titles like StarCraft or the original X-Com would be a nightmare on gamepads. Even console-feasible RPGs like The Elder Scrolls or Knights of the Old Republic are more accessible with mouse/keyboard. I despise that there is a market for overly complex experiences, yet accept it. There are innumerable examples of games that make management fun. However, virtually all else is dependent upon twitch-skill. In this case, controllers are far more desirable. Imagine playing Bayonetta with a mouse/keyboard… it sounds excruciating.

Above: Yeah, I’ll give you that one…

Mouse/keyboard still have solid footing in PC gaming, for now. Gamepads are quickly becoming the preferred PC input.  I feel traditional controllers offer marginally the greatest experience possible. My bias is hard to bury, as I was raised on console gaming. Who knows, maybe in ten years virtually reality will dominate?


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