One of gaming’s oldest debates shows no sign of stopping any time soon. There are strong opinions on whether a mouse and keyboard or a controller is the superior input option, and that’s not a surprise given how important it is to your gaming experience.
There may not be an easy answer here, but we’re going to break down why both sides have their ardent defenders, and see if we can shed some light on this hotly debated topic.
Given that you’re reading this, you probably have some experience with keyboards. Let’s start there.
Keyboards have been the go-to for PC gaming for decades, and for good reason. The 104 keys on a full-size layout provide a huge selection of potential inputs, and mapping game functions across those readily accessible keys gives developers and players a huge amount of flexibility in how they want to control their experience.
Developers have successfully mapped complex user interfaces to controllers, but the larger selection of inputs on a keyboard is a distinct advantage in menu-heavy games like MMORPGs and RTS games. These genres began on PC, so it’s not hugely surprising that they’ve evolved around the keyboard and mouse as their primary method of control.
Keyboards also provide the option of using macros, which are a series of commands tied to a single input. Many modern keyboards have specifically dedicated macro keys, and this process of tying multiple commands to a single key press can have serious advantages in complex games, not to mention day-to-day convenience.
And when it comes to choosing the right keyboard, there is a wide variety of options available. From different form factors like smaller tenkeyless or split ergonomic keyboards, to custom keycaps and a huge selection of mechanical switch types, keyboards are a world of their own.
Point and Click
The primary advantage mice have over controllers is the precision they allow when aiming, as well as the range of movement provided by the additional surface area of the mousepad. This means potentially faster movement, depending on your dots per inch (DPI) settings, and the luxury of customizable settings and inputs.
The most obvious advantage of a mouse over a controller is that it can make aiming easier. In a first person shooter, or any game where accuracy is important, a mouse is usually a competitive advantage, and facilitates easier execution of reaction-based shooting, like flickshots. This advantage is significant enough that controller-based FPS will sometimes implement aim assist, which is designed to mitigate that inherent disadvantage.
The other advantage afforded by the increased surface area is that clicking and dragging with a mouse is more intuitive than the same action with a controller. This can be important when precise control over selected units, like in RTS or MOBA games, is a high priority. Pair this with an integrated scroll wheel that can allow for easy cycling through commands for weapons, or facilitate zooming in and out from a map, and the advantage of a mouse becomes clear.
Mice, like keyboards, vary widely in functionality and design, including features like modular design, customizable buttons, and a huge selection of options for just about every type of gamer.
In other words, there’s a mouse and keyboard out there for just about everyone, and they’re often designed to provide a competitive advantage.
Before we get into gaming alternatives to a keyboard and mouse, we should define what we mean by “controller”.
A controller can mean anything from the simple directional inputs of the Magnavox Odyssey in the early ‘70s to modern flight sticks designed to emulate an airplane cockpit. When considering direct competition to the keyboard and mouse, though, many would probably think of console controllers like the DualShock 4 from Sony or the Xbox Controller from Microsoft.
These controllers consist of a set of face buttons, pressure-sensitive triggers, and dual joysticks used for movement in place of a mouse. Depending on the manufacturer, they’ll also sport touch pads, directional pads, lighting, rumble effects, and more. There’s significant variation even within this limited definition, with high-end options like the Xbox Elite that adds paddles underneath the controller for more efficient input, or Valve’s PC-centric Steam controller.
So, how does using a controller for gaming compare to using a keyboard and mouse?
For many people, one of the most prevalent differences is comfort and ease of access. A keyboard and mouse might be an efficient set of tools for working and playing games, but they aren’t necessarily designed to fit in your hands like a controller, and aren’t usually as portable. Though there are options like wireless keyboards and mice, and many ways to facilitate a high-end PC gaming experience from your couch, sometimes people prefer the simplicity of a controller.
Controllers may have fewer input options to work with, but those inputs are sometimes more precise than the binary input of a keyboard.
Analog joysticks may lack the precision and speed of a mouse, but if you press forward slightly the character might walk, and if you push harder, they might run. Holding a pressure-sensitive button moves your vehicle forward slowly; pressing all the way down could fully engage the throttle. These contextually sensitive buttons can provide a steadiness of movement that a keyboard might not be able to achieve. A joystick also makes continuous motion, like the panning of a camera for example, more consistent.
Though there are keyboards that experiment with pressure-sensitive inputs, they are relatively uncommon. This means controllers are often preferred by players of vehicle-based games, like Rocket League, or games that require precise movement, like Dark Souls.
It may not be the most satisfying answer, but the truth is that there is no clear victor between keyboard and mouse vs. controller.
It comes down to the genre of game you’re playing, and, most importantly, personal preference. Either input method can be a great way to play — you just have to figure out which you prefer.
And the good news is, you don’t have to choose.
One of the advantages of PC gaming is that you can use keyboard and mouse, or a controller, or both. You don’t even have to choose while playing a game; many support switching from one to the other mid-gameplay. Use a mouse and keyboard for gunplay in Battlefield, then pick up your controller for a seamless transition into a vehicle. Flexibility is what PC gaming is all about, and that extends to how you choose to control your game as well.
So whether you want to play Starcraft with a dance pad or Mortal Kombat with a flight stick, you do you.