Dabe Alan

Mouse and keyboard: the endangered control method

Mouse and keyboard: the endangered control method

“Do you mind if I use that to play the game?” I ask the developer. He had set up the demo for an upcoming game, and was putting the mouse and keyboard away in order to hand me a controller. He shrugged and left the mouse and keyboard on the tablet.

“Nobody ever asks that,” he told me. This was my first step into what now seems like controller madness.

The PC master race loses our weapons

It’s hard to find a developer or publishing showing off a game with a mouse and keyboard at events, even when the game is being developed exclusively for the PC. These days we’re shown games that are played with wired controllers, the cable snaking off to connect to… something. I’ll often peek under the table or behind the TV to see the PC running the game, the mouse and keyboard sitting unused, off to the side.

The mouse and keyboard use to be the way to play games, or at least it seemed that way growing up in what may have been the golden age of PC games. Once mouselook was added to games there was no looking back, the controller is a fun way to play games, and I love it, but when it comes to first-person shooters nothing beats the mouse and keyboard.

I asked another industry buddy why so few games were previewed with the PC’s native control methods. “No one really uses the mouse and keyboard anymore,” he told me, and I suddenly felt very old, and very out of touch.

During a pre-E3 event I was standing around with a bunch of writers, critics, and reporters who have been working in this space for years. These were the salty, grizzled veterans. I asked how many played PC games with a mouse and keyboard. Two, maybe three of them raised their hands.

“I used to,” one writer told me, “but now everything supports the controller, so I just play with that.” This can’t be a widespread thing, right? People still love the mouse and keyboard. They have to.

So I took to Twitter, and asked readers who follow me if they use a controller on their PC, or a mouse and keyboard. The vast, vast majority of responses said controller only. Even developers. Other critics. People I invited into my home and respected, not knowing they had neglected the One True Way.

There were a few people who said they sometimes use a controller, and some who said they used a mouse and keyboard exclusively, but these were a tiny minority. The console-style controller seems to have become the default way to play all manner of PC games. It’s how we’re shown video games at events. It’s how many developers play games. Our mouse and keyboard skills have atrophied, and we’re moving over to the controller.

I'm in Los Angeles for E3, and I'm sure I'll be handed a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard on the games I play. I'll ask if I can use the mouse and keyboard, and I'll pretend not to notice the confused look on the faces of the developers. I promise to tolerate things if the mouse isn't inverted.

When I get home, however, I'm teaching my kids how to play with a mouse and keyboard, the way you pass down a dying language, as a way to keep your cultural heritage alive. Nothing would make me happier than a flood of comments saying that I'm insane, that the mouse and keyboard is alive and well, but based on my anecdotal industry evidence, we may be a dying breed.