[Cover image courtesy of NullMag]
By: Chris Hodges & Steve Zachmann
Steve’s stance: Yes, mouse and keyboard is the best control input ever.
I was raised a Chicago Cubs fan. It wasn’t my fault, really–my family was filled with them. Watching Cubs games was a staple of my summer. But, as I grew older and gained the cognitive capacity to form my own baseball related conclusions, I soon made up my mind that the Cubs clearly sucked, would always suck, and therefore I would no longer root for them. Such is the story of my relationship with the controller.
Before I make my rock solid case as to why the mouse and keyboard combo is the superior gaming interface, allow me to make a couple of concessions. I’m not blind enough to believe that the mouse and keyboard are the prefect interface in every single situation (only most). Fighting games and driving games in particular are not well suited for the mouse and keyboard at all. The forward, down, forward motion of the classic fireball is much easier to do on a d-pad or analog stick. Driving is possibly even worse, as keys have no analog control at all, so pressing one seems to immediately force the vehicle into some type of 90 degree spinout maneuver.
The above being said, the mouse and keyboard is a better interface in nearly every other genre of gaming, even ones that you might not traditionally think of as being MNK (that’s my new acronym for mouse and keyboard, it stands for Mouse N’ Keyboard. Cool right?). The MNK has far more buttons, most of which are well within reach to be used regularly, giving players the opportunity for more available functions. The MNK also provides ridiculously high accuracy in any game that requires aiming due to the precision of the mouse vs. the analog stick.
The argument could be made that the MNK is harder to adapt to, that it’s not ergonomically friendly. That’s probably true, but if you’ve never played a video game before, the controller isn’t perfectly easy to use either. Remember the first time your grandpa tried to play a game with you? If you play games the MNK as often as you play with a controller you’ll eventually find them to be equally comfortable. I greatly prefer MNK but it’s not as though I have no idea how to use a controller.
Probably the biggest reason that the MNK is better though, is simply its versatility of use. Real-time and turn based strategy games are better with MNK because it’s easier to click on units, issue orders, etc. with that interface. Any game involving movement and shooting, from Call of Duty to Uncharted to Metal Gear, is more elegant with MNK due, once again, to the precision of the mouse. Even platformers, like Terraria, make fantastic use of the MNK setup, giving players control of movement and jumping via the keyboard, and aiming and shooting via the mouse. The Terraria system in particular is one that really sold me on the MNK being the more versatile setup. When I first bought the game, I thought that playing a 2D platformer type without a controller would be terrible. In truth, I found the opposite to be true.
The controller isn’t a terrible interface, and it does provide some benefits (it’s much easier to play on a couch, for one). But in terms of hardcore gaming, I truly feel like the MNK is just a more versatile solution for modern gaming (like IKEA!).
Chris’ rebuttal: If mouse and keyboard is truly the best, why would you sometimes want/need to switch to controllers at all?
So in the very title of Steve’s opening shot, he called mouse and keyboard (which he abbreviated as MNK so I’ll do the same) control the “best gaming input ever.” Only, he didn’t sound like he really believed it. Before even getting around to backing up that claim, he got preemptively defensive, saying right off that bat that MNK is not ideal for all genres. Can the “best gaming input ever” be one that doesn’t handle all genres well? Fighting games and racing games are two pretty huge categories of games, especially when you expand that to any game that has a driving component, which are a whole lot of them (like, say, Grand Theft Auto, unarguably one of the biggest gaming franchises not only of all time, but certainly currently). So he himself already established that (at least) two major genres of gaming are better with a controller. Fine by me. That’ll save us all some time here.
To be fair, he then added that MNK is better for pretty much all other genres. Not surprisingly, he went to strategy games first, a major genre on PC (we can pretend that an MNK vs controller debate isn’t also kind of a PC vs console debate but that’s being a little naive). Fair enough. It’s far easier to click on troops and squares on a battlefield grid with a mouse arrow than the cumbersome process of doing it with a d-pad or analog stick. However, it isn’t impossible to do with a controller by any means. Having it take a little longer to issue an order in an RTS isn’t quite as damning to the controller’s abilities as trying to steer a car with keys on a keyboard or pulling off complex control inputs in a fighting game is to the keyboard’s alleged overall prowess. The former just takes longer, but is serviceable; the latter is borderline impossible. I feel as though that gives the edge to controllers, as their weaknesses in those cases are far less severe than MNK’s weaknesses in the compared examples.
As a matter of fact, that segues nicely into my next point, probably the biggest go-to that pro-MNK supporters always hang their entire argument on: using a mouse for movement and aiming in an action game, especially an FPS, is quicker and far more accurate than a controller. This point, of course, is hard to counter. Simply pointing and clicking on a target is obviously more efficient than flicking an analog stick around to line up a targeting reticule. But again, here’s the thing: It’s not impossible. I have played dozens upon dozens of first person shooters and action games with sight shooting using a controller, and I have never once “struggled” with it the way that, say, you would struggle steering a car or throwing Ryu’s fireball with a keyboard.
A decrease in speed and headshot accuracy alone does not a vastly inferior gaming input make. Especially if you consider that, with the exception of competitive multiplayer, is the ability to string together a series of kill shots with light speed and laserbeam accuracy really a necessity? So many games these days, even action games, are about slower, deliberately-paced action anyway. Taking your time, sneaking around, shooting from cover. So it’s not a huge deal that when I’m The Phantom Pain it takes me a few extra seconds to line up a good shot. I’m typically safely hidden anyway. Or how the more powerful I got in Mass Effect, the larger of an area my magic covered anyway so I only really needed to be pointed in the general direction of my bad guys. Or how in modern Fallout games the VATS system pauses the action in order for me to zoom in on individual body parts and take all the time in the world to do so. I could go on and on. Most modern action games aren’t Unreal Tournament, where the entire gameplay experience is built around who can fire off headshots the fastest against enemies who are zooming around the map like they’re on rocket-powered roller skates. So the need for that kind of instant targeting simply isn’t there for most games anymore.
My main point is, and always has been, that controllers can handle basically every genre at least adequately, whereas MNK has several genres where it is more or less useless. The controller is a jack of all trades and master of some, while MNK is a specialist in a few areas who has no working knowledge of a few others. Which of those can be considered “superior” overall seems like a no-brainer to me. I play pretty much every genre of game there is, and I never have to switch to MNK to do so. Every time a primarily MNK gamer plugs in a controller, which by most accounts most of them do with varying regularity, it’s an acknowledgement that MNK really can’t do it all, and therefore can’t be considered the best gaming input ever. If it was, it’d be all they ever needed (like my controller is for me). Also, if spending hours hunched over a desk 20 inches from a monitor is truly the definition of “hardcore,” then you can keep that title. I’ll be “casually” sitting on my big soft couch, kicked back, feet up, relaxed, my surround sound filling the room all around me, nothing in my lap but a few ounces of plastic barely bigger than my hands…and not giving myself carpal tunnel and a blood clot in my legs.