An updated and expanded version of this article can be found at yetieater.com/opinion/using-keyboard-mouse-console-gaming-isnt-cheating/
The use of keyboard mouse adapters in console gaming invites heavy discussion on forums: I’ve seen my fair share of posts on reddit about this issue. Without fail, the first person to comment that the use of keyboard + mouse (KBM) adapters in console gaming is equivalent to cheating reaps positive comment karma in proportion with the number of people who view the thread. Comments perceived as arguments in favor of KBM adapters get down-voted to oblivion, in spite of their being both constructive and cogent. Even inflammatory comments like, “OMG dude get good with a controller or go to PC” get more positive traction than legitimate arguments. The issue of proper voting reddiquette aside, I want to get my thoughts out on the matter, with hope that even the most closed-minded may come to see things differently.
I write from the perspective of a gamer, reared on first person shooters. My first console-based FPS was Fur Fighters for the Sega Dreamcast, and my first PC FPS was Doom. While I am no stranger to the arcane mechanics of the modern gamepad, I would take a keyboard and mouse over two analog sticks any day of the week, and there’s good reason why.
Those who decry KBM console gamers as cheaters are delusional. What they’re really getting at is this notion that the world of consoles is somehow different from PC: fairer. In their minds, everyone should compete on a level playing field. I’ll prove that the field was never level to begin with, and that only a naive definition of cheating would see KBM adapters fall within it.
Fairness in Console Gaming
Consoles have always been computers. They are designed to run code that has been digitally signed, and typically to do so at a lower cost of entry than a contemporary gaming PC. The “PC Master Race” crew knows this is possible because an entire generation of console will have the same performance envelope from its launch to its eventual exit from the marketplace. Console manufacturers are thus able to reap economies of scale in production and gain leverage over suppliers by producing a large volume of standardized equipment.
Once this standardized console has left the store, however, its environment will vary wildly based on the end-user. Consumers have a dazzling array of complementary components to choose from – everything from the display to the sound system can be selected for a specific purpose, and every serious gamer makes those choices with the intention of gaining a competitive advantage, in turn making console gaming no fairer than any other sport.
Defining Cheating in PvP Gaming
Let us define “cheating” in the context of PvP gaming, and then evaluate whether the use of a KBM adapter falls within our proposed definition.
What type of activities or behavior can we universally declare to be cheating?
Memory injection. Lag switching. DDoS. Aimbotting. Wallhacking.
Thus we define cheating in video games as any modification of runtime game data, including network data.
We may be tempted to employ a vague definition such as: “Doing something to give an unfair advantage over another player,” or “any activity that modifies the game experience to give one player an advantage over another,” but these definitions are fundamentally flawed, because they center around a notion of fairness that does not exist in the real world. These definitions are so loose that deliberate practice might even slip into them.
Let’s be realistic about what a KBM adapter is: it is a device whose primary function is to provide the player with an alternative input method. They accomplish this by emulating controller input: the console is incapable of distinguishing between KBM input and controller input.
KBM adapters aren’t aimbots. They don’t give the ability to see through walls, like wallhacks or ESP. Some support functions like rapid-fire and scripting, which falls into a grey area, but the primary function of the KBM adapter remains the same: provide the player with an alternative input method.
As KBM adapters don’t alter runtime game data, they do not fall into the accepted definition of cheating.
The Competitive Gamer
The goal of any competitive player is to overcome the competition using whatever means necessary, short of cheating or breaking the rules of the game. David Sirlin’s Playing to Win (sirlin.net/ptw) does a fantastic job discussing the stratagems employed by the competitive gamer in pursuit of victory. Early in the book, Sirlin defines “scrubs,” comparing them to competitive players:
A scrub is a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about. A scrub does not play to win.
Both in-game and in the real world, the competitive gamer seeks to gain an advantage over the competition. Within the scope of the game, one player may have greater map awareness than the other. Outside of the game world, you can bet that a THX sound system will give a better game experience than a pair of iPhone earbuds, though most competitive gamers tend towards headphones. There are even sound cards that boost the sound of in-game footsteps.
Would competitive players of fighting games call the use of an arcade stick cheating? A flight stick in an air combat game? A racing wheel in a racing game? Only a scrub would take the handicap and use the general-purpose controller when a dominant option can be employed.
Controller vs. Keyboard and Mouse
Imagine a FPS game that has no aim assistance, one that was built around the keyboard and mouse as the default input method. Then, a forward-thinking player brings a controller to the table. Does the new player gain a competitive advantage by using the controller? Would the KBM players switch over to running a controller?
In reality, one is hard-pressed to make the case for the game controller being more competitive than the keyboard and mouse. Situationally, a controller may be better than a keyboard and mouse — for instance, while watching a very narrow opening with a sniper rifle, it takes very little effort for a controller user to hit the trigger without influencing their look direction.
If you make the argument that keyboard and mouse have greater precision and accuracy, effectively dominating controllers, then why aren’t you making the investment into a keyboard mouse adapter? It’s incongruous to state that:
– I play to win,
– keyboard and mouse are better than controller,
– and I use a controller because keyboard and mouse users are scrubs
If you take the game seriously, why not take the plunge and get a keyboard mouse adapter for yourself? Treat yourself, bruh. If you’re a competitive gamer whose gaming setup could support a keyboard + mouse, you owe it to yourself to try it out. I can guarantee that it will change your gameplay experience.
Otherwise, if you’re determined to stick to your console controller, at least do yourself the favor of getting an accessory like KontrolFreek. Extending your analog sticks will provide you with more precise aim, which you can probably leverage to run a higher in-game sensitivity.
In closing, I’d like to address the point of most keyboard and mouse vs. controller arguments focusing only on mechanics. While important, mechanics alone won’t determine the outcome of a fight: a KBM player with poor game sense will lose to a competent controller player the majority of the time.
20161018: Added table of keyboard + mouse adapters for console gaming