One of my favourite things about PC gaming is its bastardisation of mundane tools to create fun. If you’re sat at a desktop PC as you read this, look down. Look at what’s in front of you. A typewriter and an elaborate pointing device. Even if you’re at a laptop or netbook, you’ve got pretty much the same. If you’re on your phone or tablet, then you’re spoiling it. (Although they approximate such things, they’re rarely used for gaming.) Your mouse and keyboard are designed for WORK. And yet look what you use them for!
I love this distinction, this oddity that separates the PC from the console. The console is a sealed box, remotely controlled with the relative simplicity of a gamepad. Even if your PC is custom-built for playing high-end games, it still has a mouse and keyboard in front of it, as well as dozens of other bits and pieces poking out all over the place, and probably has the side unscrewed and half hanging off. I adore the absurdity of it all, of taking these dreary tools and imbuing them with the magical powers of gaming.
It’s almost subversive. The keyboard, a reinterpretation of the mechanical typewriter, designed to allow you to enter text onto a glowing green screen, is a 100+ button controller. The mouse, later added to allow you to double-click on the icon for Quicken Pro as you sorted your taxes, is a camera, a gun, a floating hand, the means by which you command hundreds of troops. The monitor, there to display your spreadsheets, is a window into alien worlds, underground cities, the farthest reaches of space, and the impossible beauty of Earth.
There’s something very wonderful about looking at an office filled with PCs and seeing not a potential workspace, but a potential LAN meeting.
I remember, in the mid-90s, when my school’s local council decided that spending money on computers was all that mattered, at the cost of textbooks, sports and science equipment. I remember how the A level Politics class of 12 people was having to share one textbook between three of them, while PCs were literally being used as doorstops. And I remember how this meant my chums and I saw the classrooms as potential gaming facilities. Networking up our form room’s ludicrously unnecessary collection of 486s and installing Doom on them all.
Schools seem somewhat less likely to put a row of PS4s along one of the walls. It’s possibly less of a possibility that an office will ensure every worker has a Wii U at their desk. But the PC is ubiquitous, and our desire to play overwhelms.
God bless those creators in the late 70s and early 80s who saw the primitive home computers for what they could be, so far beyond managing home accounts. And to those who continued that spirit, seeing each evolution in dreary tech as a step forward in potential gaming. And throughout it all, from the very start, the wondrous keyboard has been there, misused in so many wonderful ways.
As I glance to my left and see the box my motherboard came in, with a string of indecipherable letters and numbers on the side as if knowing it’s a Z68X-UD3P-B3 and not a Z68X-UD3P-B2 is going to help me in some way, I look back down at my humble mouse and keyboard and I salute them as my favourite part of any PC I’ve ever owned. Their combination of simplicity and complexity, mundanity and potential, clumsiness and finesse. Goddamnit mouse and keyboard, I love you.
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