Keyboard and Mouse vs. Controller – Which is superior?

January 10, 2012


It’s a split that’s been around since the early years of console gaming – while home computers were becoming more popular with the everyday consumer, gaming consoles such as the NES, Atari, Super Nintendo, and the Sega Genesis were flying off the shelves and finding their way into the homes of countless gamers. And while hundreds of games were available for each platform, one critical element made each experience unique: the way the player controls the game. While computer games commonly made use of the system’s keyboard (and later the mouse as well), console gamers had access to a wider array of gaming devices – controller pads, joysticks, even some more outlandish peripherals (such as the power glove, seen below). Nowadays, gaming companies have a much better understanding of gaming hardware, what works, and what doesn’t. And it’s possibly due to this cutting-edge level of design that gamers are so torn over this important topic – between a Keyboard & Mouse and a Controller, which setup is the superior?

The Power Glove: Nintendo's most tragic mistake?

The Power Glove: Nintendo's most tragic mistake?

Let’s start with an analysis of the basic keyboard and mouse setup with a scroll wheel. The biggest advantage here is the sheer number of buttons you have – a total of about 109 buttons and motions, including wheel clicks. Let’s not forget that there are also gaming keyboards and mice, with features such as extra buttons and the ability to store macros (a sequence of keystrokes) that can be accessed with a single button press. This leaves a huge range of possible control setups that a player can tailor to their personal tastes, and with the huge amount of commands that can be assigned in some games (such as Counter Strike), the amount of keys available is a welcome advantage. From arrow keys from the DooM era to the “WASD” setup so popular with first-person games these days, the keyboard represents total freedom of customization. The WASD setup is especially advantageous, since it gives the gamer easy access to an extra 15 or so keys within easy reach of their left hand. The mouse also provides an intuitive replacement for the joystick, allowing fine movements or quick flicks for a wide range of control. While a controller’s joystick might lack the precision to lock on to your target precisely, the mouse represents the pinnacle of precision, and one of the cornerstones of the reasoning why so many gamers use the keyboard and mouse as their preferred gaming setup. Modern mice even make use of acceleration algorithms, so that your mouse’s acceleration will be reflected on the screen; slow movement will move the mouse cursor slowly, and vice-versa.

On the other hand, gaming controllers have several advantages that keyboards and mice simply can’t match. Probably the most obvious thing is their streamlined design – every button, joystick, and D-pad is designed to be within easy reach, allowing you to control your game without having to take your eyes off of it. This might be something an experienced PC gamer can do after some practice, but it comes much more easily on a controller. Current-generation consoles make use of controllers with about 12 buttons on them, not counting joysticks and D-pads. While that’s not nearly as much as a keyboard and mouse, control schemes are designed to be streamlined and intuitive, and can even use some buttons as modifiers for the others, nearly doubling or tripling the number of commands you can execute. An excellent example is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I personally play it on the PC, and have tried it with both setups. One thing I could never really wrap my mind around is the way menu navigation works with a keyboard and mouse. It’s hard to describe without seeing it for yourself, but when you’re using a keyboard and mouse, you can either use the “WASD” keys or the mouse and scroll wheel to navigate the menus and select items. The problem is, the item names in the menu will grow and shrink, and the text will light up or go dim depending on what’s selected, and the game doesn’t explicitly explain which highlighting method determines what’s selected. So let’s say you’re at a merchant, and you’re selling a common piece of armor which just so happens to be next to an ultra-rare magic armor piece of badass awesomeness. If you didn’t select that common armor piece properly, you may have just accidentally sold that ultra-rare armor piece. With the controller, you simply use the left stick to move through the menu, and you’ll always know which item you have highlighted, since the text will go white and the font will grow. This is probably something Bethesda will fix, but as it stands right now, the controller has the advantage in that department.

Controllers also allow the gamer to control his character more intuitively; by this point, I’m sure most of us don’t think of the left stick for movement and the right stick for looking – when we play the game, it just happens, and we use the controller just like a limb on our body. If you think about it, moving and looking in a game feel as natural as in real life. Controllers are also designed to be comfortable for use with hours of gaming, while a keyboard and mouse can easily tire you out and require you to sit upright at a desk to avoid significant discomfort. But it’s hard to rival how good it feels to lounge back in your couch, chair, or bed, controller in hand, and game the day away in total comfort. Controllers have really come a long way since the days of the NES’s “brick” controller, and are designed and shaped to fit a player’s hands naturally. Of course, this can vary based on the design of the keyboard and mouse, but most people think of a square block for a keyboard, not a shapely, curved surface to type on. And with controllers’ move to make use of the USB format, controllers can even be used to play PC games, something that keyboards and mice haven’t really broken into on gaming consoles (aside from the PS3 version of Unreal Tournament 3). While some could see this as an infringement on traditional PC gaming territory, most others see this as companies simply giving the gamer the choice to play their games the way they want to.

I’d like to close the article by saying that my intent was not to divide the gaming community, but rather to show everyone what’s available to them. I want to encourage all of you to try gaming from both sides of the fence and see which you personally like better. Want to share your opinion on the topic? Sound off in the comments below!

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About Argus9

Jonathan ‘Argus9′ Zisser has been an avid gamer for over 20 years. His early years of playing the NES with his father helped springboard his interest in gaming, and has eventually matured into an avid following for the gaming industry. Studying Computer Engineering at Stony Brook University also gave him insight into the more technical side of video games. A passionate writer as well, Jonathan loves conveying his experiences and opinions by creating engaging articles as often as possible. More often than not, he tries to break down today’s industry and write editorials that make his readers think.

View all posts by Argus9

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One Comment on “Keyboard and Mouse vs. Controller – Which is superior?”

  1. R17 Says:

    Excellent article Argus. The level of detail written here perfectly compliments your knowledge of PC gaming and also your love of gaming in general.


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