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Have You Played... Cleaning A Mouse Ball?

It's more the guts than the ball

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

If you're of a certain age, you'll remember a time when your mouse didn't have a red laser firing out of its belly like some kind of awesome robot. In those times, you'd almost certainly have been playing with just the two buttons as well, with none of these clickable mouse wheels or banks of controls underneath your every digit.

You'll remember a time when mice had balls and we were expected to clean their guts from time to time.

There was no job grimmer in all of PC gaming.

A mouse, in ages gone by, was a clumsy mechanical device. It still fit into the shell of your hand, though there was a tendency toward the sharply angular in design because people were idiots back then, but instead of sending movement-tracking data to your PC using the power of its mind (I don't understand how mice work), it used a set of rollers and a ball. Essentially, as you moved the mouse along its pad, a ball that protruded from the bottom of the mouse rolled against that pad and as it turned, it set plastic widgets inside the mouse rotating – as they span, they told the cursor on-screen to move.

You might be able to see where a problem might arise. If anything were to prevent the movement of any of those elements, the cursor wouldn't move. And for some reason, mouse balls seemed to attract dust, gunge and whatever else nineties kids had lying around their houses. So every now and then you'd have to remove the ball and give it, and the surrounding areas, a wash.

Imagine having to clean the inside of your mouse on a regular basis? All of that along with editing autoexec.bat and config.sys files to make sure games actually ran makes me thankful to live in modern times, even if my SSD isn't quite as fast as I want it to be.

One time, my pet dog stole my mouse ball. I'd left it on the side while I was poking around trying to shift some crap that had coagulated in the ball-nest. The dog carried it off and lost it somewhere in the garden. I couldn't play any games for about a week, when I found it half-buried next to a pond.

Look at this, from an article about cleaning mouse balls.

If you find that the mouse still sticks/jumps, the problem may be that the rubber ball has become too smooth due to age. You can rough up the ball for better traction by using a kitchen scouring pad.

Imagine a StarCraft 2 pro asking for a timeout during a match and getting out a Spontex scourer to go to work on his mouse ball.

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About the Author

Adam Smith

Former Deputy Editor

Adam wrote for Rock Paper Shotgun between 2011-2018, rising through the ranks to become its Deputy Editor. He now works at Larian Studios on Baldur's Gate 3.