A Quick Celebration Of The Mouse And Keyboard

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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83 Comments

  1. fahrenheit says:

    The same could also be said (to some extent) to pen and paper, while originally not designed for us to play games (most probably developed as a way to keep track of trade items and who owed what to whom), how many tic-tac-toes and battleships have not been played since?

    So I would add to the title “… And the human inventiveness for procrastination and games!”

    • PseudoKnight says:

      Pen[cil] and paper is a great example. It’s about tools, not toys. Do you want a blank sheet of paper with a pencil or a coloring book with a magic marker?

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        Going even further with axes, spears and bows have all been used for sport rather than the essentials they were originally designed for.

      • aoanla says:

        I’m pretty sure a “toy” is just a “tool for playing games”, so it’s really about context, surely?

        • PseudoKnight says:

          I see what you’re saying, and that can be true for some toys (eg. a ball), but it’s not what I meant. Toys that are tools are actually the best kind of toys. But as an example, a screwdriver can be used to do many things, even some unintended. A toy version of a screwdriver is almost worthless as a tool. It is cheaply made and designed only to work with the material provided. Its function is to enable the user to pretend to be using a screwdriver.

  2. Premium User Badge

    zigguratvertigo says:

    A good piece, John. I think (and to some extent hope) that the gaming mouse and keyboard are a short term phenomenon; the point surely is that these things are ordinary in and of themselves but become enablers of wonder when human creativity is allowed to flourish. Painting them in camouflage or highlighting the WASD keys does seem a bit silly to me.

    • Bugamn says:

      I don’t understand your point. What do you mean by a short term phenomenon?

      • Tacroy says:

        Talking to the monsters is all well and good, but what if you could think at the monsters?

      • Luke Nukem says:

        I think they mean specifically gaming keyboards and mice will be a short term phenomenon, not keyboards and mice in general

        • Zelos says:

          They’re definitely here to stay, so long as PC gaming is a thing(eventually VR advancement should render it obsolete but that’s decades off).

          Gaming mice and keyboards are definitely advantageous over standard business tools, and people are always going to want to get the most out of their tools that they can.

          In particular, extra mouse buttons are a huge improvement over the standard “two buttons and a wheel”. You’ve got five fingers on the thing, may as well use them.

          Gaming keyboards are a bit more difficult to quantify as objective improvements, but still have advantages. Macro keys can be huge if you’re a MMO player. Some FPS players prefer alternate layouts to the standard keyboard, or keypads that certainly don’t function as full keyboards.

          • SuicideKing says:

            Yeah, gaming mice are good because of all the extra buttons. Keyboards with extra keys can be good for games like Arma but I think the main advantage is >3 key rollover.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            “eventually VR advancement should render it obsolete but that’s decades off.”

            Indeed, and it has decades of useful time to die off earlier.

          • DragonOfTime says:

            It’s funny, I use the macro keys on my keyboard more for non-gaming things than gaming. Always having your email address at only the touch of a button is amazing.

      • carewolf says:

        Gaming keyboards is a mostly silly idea now, since the point of using a keyboard for gaming was that you can use the keyboard you already have. The only technical thing you get out of gaming keyboard, is the fact that is wired, and has proper handling of multi-key input, but so does most other high end keyboards.

        • Zenicetus says:

          There is one other advantage with gaming keyboards: you can get ones with backlit keys, for late night gaming in a darkened room. That’s the only reason I use one, some model or other Razer Blackwidow keyboard.

          Backlit keys show up on some laptops, but it’s not exactly a standard feature for PC keyboards otherwise.

          • carewolf says:

            Well, you could also turn on the light, instead of sitting in the dark ;)

            It would also strain your eyes less

    • demicanadian says:

      Gaming mouse and keyboard are a redundant, too pricey phenomenon.

      • Cederic says:

        Seems unlikely. The market may shrink, but it’s unlikely to vanish.

        I’m happy to pay for high quality visually attractive performant hardware and I’m not the best paid person on the planet, so people will meet that market demand.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      Topre keyboards, they are the best thing money can possibly buy and they also look like the most boring thing you ever saw.

      Who will buy them, then? Only hardcore enthusiasts who know that nothing beats dye sublimation painting on PBT keycaps and Topre switches mounted on the best piece of japanese made chassis you can find, which feels and sounds like nothing else.

      The others? They won’t buy, because it’s not shiny.

      My point? Sometimes you have to try stupid things in order to get more customers, even if you didn’t really intend to do something like Filco did with their “military” boards.

      What is really important however is that it doesn’t matter how mundane a mouse or a keyboard can be, they are a key element in our hobby and therefore there should be a purchase option available to those who will only settle for the best equipment they can find.

      At the end of they day we use them a lot, we should expect quality products aswell. You have my full simpathy, however, when it comes to “gaming” products that are nothing more than cheap plastic with a shiny red dragon logo on top that somehow inflates the price by 200% for no apparent reason.

      • jrodman says:

        Topre are fine and all, but I prefer simple mechanical switches myself. But my keyboards are in the same category: well-made, sturdy, nothing flashy, programmable, or blinky.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          Well, that absolutely fits the criteria aswell, and it’s nice that a market exists.

  3. Lakshmi says:

    They also allow so much flexibility for customisation, keyboards especially, but gaming mice too. It makes such a difference to my gaming experience.

  4. Kefren says:

    I like mice and keyboards. Good sturdy cables connecting them to the CPU overbrain. Never normally let me down, as long as a stray hair doesn’t get caught in the red laser of precision.

    Unfortunately I treated myself to a new mouse recently, thinking I’d pass my old one on to someone else and get something as a treat. I bought a Kensington mouse. And the scroll wheel started squeaking on the second day. It’s infuriating. Only a little noise, but I am hyper-aware of it. And although I could fix it with a drop of oil, Kensington – like most hardware manufacturers – make it as difficult as possible to open it up for maintenance. The screws must be hidden under the labels and smooth plastic, so I am seeing how long I can put up with it before I peel them all off and do a repair job.

    I also find it frustrating that it isn’t possible to buy a good quality mouse that doesn’t have a logo/company name where you put your palm. I try to get away from seeing advertising all the time.

    I’m probably the only grumpy bastard to ever complain about a squeaking mouse.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Well unless you’re a Del Toro character you probably wont be seeing that logo much. Also if you’re that insane surely you could get some sandpaper and grind it away.

      • Kefren says:

        I probably am that insane. I actually thought of borrowing some nail varnish and using that to paint over it.

        I see my mouse about 100 times a day so some nice burgundy disco glitter would be better than having company names burned into my grey goo.

    • PseudoKnight says:

      Finding the perfect mouse is really hard. The buttons are too stiff or not durable enough, the shape is too large for finger-tip control and often too heavy, not enough buttons or in the wrong places, the software too limited or too annoying. And of course, you can’t try them until you buy them. I just have to remind myself how much worse most mice are and be thankful we have so much choice.

      • anHorse says:

        I found the absolute perfect mouse

        But then it wouldn’t register the extra buttons as being held down, forcing me to awkwardly use my keyboard for push to talk

      • skyturnedred says:

        I hope I never have to give up my MX518. It’s just too damn perfect to settle for anything less.

  5. Stompywitch says:

    I think the best part of the PC isn’t that we’ve turned m+kb into game controllers, but that we can always use the best controller for the job. And sometimes that’s m+kb, but it isn’t always.

    • nimbulan says:

      More often than not, it is. Which is funny considering that keyboards and mice were never designed for gaming, yet they are far superior to purpose-built devices in many gaming situations.

      • Boozebeard says:

        Well the mouse is great. The keyboard is good for having loads of keys but it’s really pretty shit as a movement device, analogues sticks range of movement is far superior. I am really baffled as to why there hasn’t been a Razer Nostromo style device with a proper analogue stick on it.

        • The Librarian With No Name says:

          Now there’s a fine idea! Now that you’ve mentioned it, I can feel just how an analog stick would fit right under my thumb on my current mouse. I’d settle for one of those weird pointer nubs they used to have on laptop keyboards, but I think I’m part of the only five-year cohort who finds that sort of thing really intuitive.

        • zxcasdqwecat says:

          Because you can turn the camera with your mouse which is infinitely better than turning your avatar around, at least in third person games.

      • LionsPhil says:

        The mouse was designed for rapid, accurate 2D positioning that you can keep up all day, and that fits a lot of games. Anything with clicking on a UI (which covers a wide gamut of strategy games) is its home turf, and using it to control view direction/aiming is not far off.

      • ButteringSundays says:

        Well it’s entirely genre dependent, and the ones that tend to work best for keyboard and mouse are that way because it’s the control scheme it was designed around.

        It’s not like it’s a coincidence.

  6. mgardner says:

    My earliest memories of computer gaming were keyboard only; eventually, the developers started supporting keyboard and optional joystick – mouse was not even an option. Developers were trying to come up with clever ways to use the joystick and its one (or sometimes two) buttons to control war games and RPGs like the SSI gold box games. Because, you know, using a keyboard = work and using a joystick = fun. This is back in the Apple 2 / Commodore 64 / TI 99 4A era of gaming.

    IJKM was the old WASD!

    • LionsPhil says:

      Also AZOP.

      • Premium User Badge

        75oharas says:

        qaop in a spectrum 48k :)

        • eclipse mattaru says:

          Aye. And then I had to switch that to QAUI when the membrane under the keyboard started acting up. And then it got worse and I had to resort to all manner of weird combinations and witchcraft.

    • jrodman says:

      Huh. I started off as joystick-only on the atari 2600 (and paddle-only on some sears pong thing we had before that).

      When we transitioned to the C64, games typically fell sharply into the keyboard or joystick end of the divide, with simple cart-style games using joystick only and elaborate sprawling strangenesses like Zork, Dunjonquest, and Godzilla being plodding keyboard affairs. I loved them all.

      It was only when some games started trying to use the keyboard as an extra button for a joystick action game that it got so uncomfortable. Thankfully the days where that was needed are LONG over.

  7. criskywalker says:

    I also love how companies have been creating mouses and keyboards focused on gaming. It’s a pleasure playing with a good mechanical keyboard and fast, comfortable mouse.

    I still remember when all I used to play was a crappy keyboard on the PC, but at the same time I had an Amiga with a glorious mouse!

    Then we started getting mouses, better sound and 3d graphics on PC.

    It feels so good to use a tool which was used as a glorified calculator in the past as an entertainment machine!

    • Premium User Badge

      Risingson says:

      And it’s a pleasure to work with these gaming mice and keyboards.

      Btw: yay gaming mice. Since the first xbox (not 360, xbox) controller I haven’t find anything else that fits my big manly hands.

  8. liquidsoap89 says:

    Mr. Walker… You owe it to yourself to upgrade your motherboard! The upgrade to the BIOS UI alone would make it worthwhile.

  9. Dr.Ded says:

    I get dissed by mouse and keyboard people all the time for choosing game pad for most games (even the ones that would do better with a mouse) They assume that I am new to pc gaming because of my preference. The funny thing is that I started on a C64 with a Coleco vision control (I think it was Coleco, it was a joystick w/ a number pad beneath it) back in the early 80’s. I’ve switched back and forth at least three times and the controls I’m using at the time are always “the best”. I just wish that many of the m+kb people wouldn’t be so snobby and self-righteous about it. We ALL love video games…controller, m+kb, touch screen…who cares. We’re all on the same team here.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      We’re all on the same team here.

      Speak for yourself.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      8/10, TWO points detracted for the touch screen mention.

    • OmNomNom says:

      Aye, speak for yourself. I hope you’re not on my team in an FPS game :)

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        I know a guy who cut his teeth on Halo 1 deathmatch and will absolutely own your ass at TF2 or Hawken using a gamepad. Can’t handle M+KB controls at all.

        So, yeah, no, Dr.Ded is 100% right. Use what works for you, even if it’s not what works of most people.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      My Apple ][ had a joystick several years before I had even considered buying a mouse for it. I don’t even remember there being much of a reason to own a mouse in the Apple ][/Commodore 64/Atari 800 era outside of using GeOS, which sucked.

  10. Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

    Stop. TWO mice?!?! Can I patent that..?

    • jrodman says:

      We used to play multi-layer lemmings this way a lot, but that doesn’t stop you from patenting it. By all means!

  11. aircool says:

    I’ll admit that for gaming I use Keyboard+, otherwise known as a G13.

    However, it’s also great for macro’s in non-gaming software (Cubase for instance).

  12. Laurentius says:

    Keyboard only sucks when: a) game is badly ported
    b) game controls sucks and/or unnecessarily obtuse for a gamepad in the first place.

    • Dare_Wreck says:

      Come on, aren’t we passed this argument by now? Keyboard sucks when it’s preferential to have analogue movement or control, such as for driving or flying games. I’ll never understand the argument to have to use a keyboard in any type of game, no matter what.

      • Mrice says:

        This is very much a personal thing. But i have spent so much time doing exactly those things with a keyboard that i don’t take proper advantage of a game pad when i do use one.

        Essentially, i have to consciously choose to push a little bit, gradient is not really something you get used to using a keyboard. Normally when i play i just slam the stick all the way in one direction and then flutter it back and forth like you do with a keyboard.

        • Bugamn says:

          I also tend to push the stick all the way to the side, but I still find it advantageous in that I don’t have to stick to only 4 or 8 directions.

    • Geebs says:

      KB+M also sucks when your wrists are screwed up from spending the entire day typing. These days I pretty much have to use a controller.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Sort out your workplace ergonomics, get a different keyboard, etc. Wrist pain is not something to just shut up and put up about and can get seriously worse.

  13. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    Dreamcast – keyboard, and mouse. There were a few PS2 games that used KB/mouse too.

    As to gaming keyboards – fuck that. Get yourself a proper Unicomp buckling spring keyboard. Great for typing, ok for games. Alternatively one of the Logitech G13s.

    • Premium User Badge

      Risingson says:

      You know what kind of people I hate most? The ones that say “what you need is…” thinking that everyone has the same needs.

      • Premium User Badge

        syllopsium says:

        Lovely for you. It’s a suggestion, not a mandatory dictate.

        However, saying that, look at a Unicomp buckling spring or dome keyboard. Look at a gaming keyboard and the price differential. Now see if it’s a technical advantage, or marketing.

  14. racccoon says:

    Keyboard N’ Mouse are the greatest tools invented.
    Number 1. in gaming and computer usage.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Sincerely, I cannot really see the subversion of seeing mouse+keyboard as gaming things. Or to look at anything as potential fun material.

  16. NephilimNexus says:

    Reading this article has made the wind blowing through our golden hair stronger and the sunlight beating off our massive bronze chests shine even brighter.

  17. OmNomNom says:

    It’s frankly embarrassing that consoles don’t have a widespread precision gaming controller comparable to the mouse after all this time

    • Unsheep says:

      Well it has never been necessary to do so.
      Console gamers play against other console gamers, they use the same gamepads and the same platforms, and therefore play on equal terms. Nobody is at a disadvantage because of what input tool they are using. Success comes down to how well you have learned to master the controller.

      PC gamers on the other hand have the option to either play with controller or with keyboard & mouse, the latter being more precise than the former, so you don’t play on equal terms.

      I’ve had that issue playing racing sims on PC, where gamepad users got extra handling support by default whereas wheel users like myself got none. So we were not playing on equal terms as gamepad users had an advantage.

  18. Nereus says:

    “Your mouse and keyboard are designed for WORK. And yet look what you use them for!”

    Look here buddy, I game with a controller most of the time – and I spent most of my day coding in R using both my keyboard and my mouse. Don’t you go accusin’ me of using my keyboard irresponsibly!

  19. Jason Moyer says:

    Outside of tactical RPG’s and First Person games (which are, admittedly, the bread and butter of my PC gaming), I can’t remember the last time I used the mouse/keyboard as gaming peripherals. I spend more time behind my G25 than anything, probably, and I use a gamepad for third person, side-scrolling or isometric action games like Batman Arkham, Ys or Bastion. Every tool has a purpose.

    • Unsheep says:

      That has been my philosophy as well.
      You use what you feel most comfortable with.

      I like the variety we have today as gamers, with gamepads, flight sticks, racing wheels, keyboard & mouse.
      Soon we’ll have VR as well.
      Using different tools is fun in itself, its part of gaming.

  20. JamesTheNumberless says:

    This article touches on the essence of what makes computer games so cool in the first place – and where the difference always traditionally was between home computers and games consoles. I don’t think I’d have been half as interested in making games as a child if there hadn’t been that subversive element that we were taking technology designed for one purpose and using it for something completely different, for the sake of fun and creativity.

  21. caff says:

    How about a keyboard with analogue keys? I.e. not just a binary value but WASD keys that you could push gently for a softer touch?

  22. melanie43 says:

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  23. Lieutenant Thrawn says:

    Admit it John, your whole article was just a thin excuse so you could smugly boast you have a Z68X-UD3P-B3, wasn’t it? :) Oh, and you overlooked something. Your PC/Console gaming comparison in a work environment misses the fact that almost all videogames today have something hugely Captain Obvious in common whether you’re playing on a console or PC; they’re all originally created in an office workspace! The developers aren’t sitting at a bank of PS4’s or X-Boxes, are we? No, we’re sitting at desks in a studio using PC’s with surprise surprise, keyboards and mice. Amazing, I know. But who actually *plays* PC games for any length of time at a desk? I’m entering text now with the Windows On-Screen Keyboard tool using a mouse on the coffee table next to my couch, sometimes with the mouse on a book when I lay down to recline more. We rarely use keyboards for PC gaming anymore since all we need is a 360 gamepad or hotas joystick/throttle/pedals but when I do it’s plonked on my lap or the couch next to me. Oh dear, I thought we had gotten way past the whole games console vs “desktop PC” thing years ago, since an HDTV/projector is merely just a screen you plug anything into; console, tablet, gaming PC, whatever; same as Oculus Rift on our PC’s or any other VR devices. Even years before the relatively recent HDMI standardisation phenomenon we were using old Sony Wega TV’s in our homes as “monitors” with its dedicated PC input ports while the other kids who didn’t know any better were stuck using their Playstations and Nintendo’s. Oh and BTW, when we build our next PC we’ll make absolutely sure it has a newer and better mobo than your Z68X-UD3P-B3, alright Mr Smuggy Pants in your “Study”? :P Haha!

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      You might not feel the need to use keyboard for gaming much these days, but you might want to think about using the return key a little bit more.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    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.

    Not to mention those in the 50s who thought they might be able to have a little fun with the first generation of stored-program computers (even if they took a while to get further than noughts and crosses..)

  25. Unsheep says:

    You use what you have, and build games around user restrictions.

    Early game developers for PC only had keyboard and mouse to offer the gamer, so they ended up being the chief input devices for PC.

    Plus everyone who owned a PC also owned a keyboard and mouse, which made it easier to sell your game since no other equipment was needed.

    Developers built their games around tools that were already available, which is the easiest option to any developer.

    The console controller is likewise a restriction, which developers need to work with to make their games playable.

    Traditionally you played console games with a controller and that has stuck with time. They could have made keyboard and mouse systems for console a long time ago but decided to do the easiest thing and stick with the tool that was already there, a gamepad.

    The gamepad is a more advanced tool in that its uses are more varied as far as physical handling goes. A keyboard and mouse offers less physical variety, you do the same thing on keyboard and mouse regardless of game. It is more about twitch reflexes, not physical or technical mastery.

    Using a controller is like using a musical instrument.
    People who are good at games like Fifa, NBA and NHL take great pride in having mastery of the controller.
    Dark Souls players on PC are equally vocal of their skills.
    Learning to master the controller is very much part of the gameplay when it comes to certain games.

    I object to the author’s statement ‘…relative simplicity of a gamepad’, as most PC gamers are very keen to point out their difficulty in handling a controller.

    • Bugamn says:

      I think that the author meant the number of buttons when he referred to the simplicity of the gamepad.