9 November 2008





Part 3: Control Freaks

The modern gaming PC is an amazing piece of hardware. With much more raw power than any console, capable of far superior graphics and glorious surround sound, equipped with near-infinite versatility of control and able to access data with lightning speed from massive hard drives, the PC is the greatest games machine in the world. Or at least, it would be if it wasn’t for YOU.

They say a bad workman always blames his tools. But if you’ve ever read Modern Workman magazine, you’ll notice something odd – it isn’t full of features, reviews and adverts for super-advanced £350 diamond-edged laser-sighted hammers. And if you call a handyman round to fix something in your house, he won’t turn up with the latest 1000-function Black & Decker Workmate – he’ll open a tatty old bag full of battered spanners and mallets that look like they were first used by Noah to knock the Ark together. Thing is, though, he’ll still do the job a hundred times better than you would, because he’s a professional and he’s got skills. Which is why it’s so embarrassing to watch what so many PC owners use to play games with.

When I clicked the first result I got from Googling “pc gaming peripherals”, the first item on the page was a steering wheel set costing £180. (You don’t want to know what turned up when I Googled “tatty old bag full of battered spanners”. People are sick.) A hundred and eighty quid! That’s more than my first actual real-life car cost. (And while you wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to get it up over 60mph without a mechanic and an ambulance on standby, it certainly provided a pretty realistic driving experience, plus you could go to the shops in it.) It was also, incidentally, possible to spend £100 on just a set of pedals.

On the same page you could spend a small third-world nation’s yearly infrastructure budget on a £100 flight-sim yoke; a forty quid “force feedback gaming headset”; a TWO HUNDRED POUND flightsim joystick featuring “multiple programmable hat switches and adjustable resistance for the throttle” - alongside a separate £170 “throttle quadrant”, because only a caveman would play with the stick alone; a ludicrous £70 “gaming mouse” with a built-in LCD screen for God knows what reason; a £160 train controller that works with ONE GAME; and a relative bargain – a “gaming keyboard” retailing at a mere £69.99. (Oddly, practically the only thing the site didn’t offer was the one popular console-gaming peripheral of recent years, a dancemat. Evidently PC owners don’t dance. No great shock there.)

But what constitutes a “gaming keyboard” anyway? Well, as it turned out, it’s the same thing as characterises most of the other peripherals – built-in cheating. As with many of the peripherals sold to the dedicated PC gamer, the keyboard was awash with buttons that could be pre-programmed to perform entire sequences of actions at the touch of a key. Or, put another way, to play the game for you, you pathetic wuss.

On famous computer-liker William Shatner’s fantastic “Has Been” album from 2004, there’s a duet with legendary grunge orator Henry Rollins called “I Can’t Get Behind That”. As the two men go through a list of things that displease them about the modern world, Rollins offers this critique of Shatner’s infamous singing style:

”If you have to fix it with a computer - quantized, pitch corrected, and overly inspected - then YOU CAN’T DO IT”

There’s a wake-up call there, reader. Mouse-and-keyboard-toting PC users like to sneer at console gamers playing FPS games with joypads, because of the relatively primitive aiming and response times. (Never mind that mouse and keyboard has ruined the FPS, turning it into that tedious, contrived subgenre the floating-head shooter.) But here’s the thing – being able to play an FPS with a joypad means you’ve actually got some skill. Console gamers use the same cheap controller for every kind of game, because they’re prepared to learn those skills instead of just buying them like a lazy spoilt brat. Any loser coward can get a CPU to do all the work for them. Why don’t you man up and grow a pair, PC gamers?

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