Gamepad Support: A Fruitless Plea For Civility On The Internet

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“You realize playing FPS with a console controller is like playing basketball in a wheelchair, right?” Everyone who has spent any length of time on gaming forums have seen quotes like this one that I snagged from a discussion concerning Infinite Crisis. There is a huge group of gamers on PC who have seen the rise of controller support as a standard feature and taken the defensive. They perceive it as a dumbing down of their gaming experience, an invasion by the “console kiddies” onto their playground of choice. They miss the days where they could lord Quake 3 over their friends and list off all the ways that it was vastly superior to GoldenEye. Of course, much has changed since then. Microsoft has turned their Xbox controller into a PC gaming standard in the past generation, helping turn a scene of awful half-baked ports into a thriving marketplace where games like Deadpool, Mortal Kombat, and Guardians of Middle Earth can stand aside the Crusader Kings and Civilization in one’s Steam library.

That’s where I really should begin. I sat down to play Guardians of Middle Earth on its PC launch day. I’ve been excited about its release for a while now, mostly due to its built-in controller support. Considering that MOBAs are one of those “hardcore” genres that have not yet embraced controller support as a standard, I wanted to see how it handled, and it played well. I’ve tried playing both League of Legends and DOTA2 in the past, but this is the first MOBA that I was able to wrap my head around, mostly due to being able to control it in my preferred style. After a few games, I had grown fond of a goblin sorcerer who was good at drifting around enemies and getting in pot shots, and the half hour long matches were flying by.

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Sadly, as is seemingly the case with most games nowadays, there were also plenty of bugs I had to overlook when playing the title.  Perhaps hoping for a message from the dev team about when the inevitable patches would start rolling out., I decided to pop onto the game’s forums and see what kind of reception the game was getting. It was almost universally negative, and I became curious as to why. There were plenty of legitimate complaints, but sprinkled all throughout were those familiar posts. Posts bemoaning the controller based gameplay, wishing that gamepad support had been stripped out in favor of a firm focus on mouse and keyboard controls. Of course, this moaning called anyone who DARED to use controllers a wide variety of words that are best left out of this post. Let your imagination run wild, because whatever you can come up with probably isn’t that far off.

It is with these people that I take issue, and here where I must reveal something in order for this plea to make sense. I was born with a nerve disease called Charcot-Marie-Tooth. Going into exactly what that means is beyond the scope here, but it basically means that I am unable to, among other things, play games effectively with a mouse and keyboard. The physical motion of moving my hand back and forth to scroll the cursor around the screen is taxing to me. I’ve taken to using a trackball mouse at my computer because using my fingers on a stationary device is much more manageable. However, trackball mice aren’t ideal for gameplay, so any game without gamepad support on PC that is played in real time and more complicated than Binding of Issac is impossible for me to enjoy.

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Obviously, Steam’s Big Picture initiative and Microsoft’s standardization of PC controllers have been a huge boon to my gaming life. These pushes finally allowed me to invest in a gaming PC and switch from Xbox 360 as my main gaming platform, and I’ve never looked back.  These last couple of years have been magical, allowing me to experience genres and games that I never would have touched before, as well as letting me become addicted to amassing a huge pile of indie titles for mere pennies. The only negative, the only thing I’ve had to deal with, is the barrage of disparaging posts that are aimed my way every time I ask about controller support for an upcoming release. I’m the first to say that anyone using the Internet has to have a thick skin, but the constant assessments of my intelligence and demands to come to my senses and play the right way,  get to you eventually.

I’m not even saying that what they’re repeating over and over isn’t completely valid. I’m sure given the choice, playing Team Fortress or Battlefield with a mouse would be much more accurate. I’m sure there’s a scientific study somewhere to back that up; it makes sense to me. The thing is, I don’t have a choice. I’m a guy who likes first person shooters, so I’ve gotten pretty good at upping the sensitivity of the sticks and scoring headshots with my right thumb. I’m still interested in MOBAs, and now Guardians of Middle Earth has allowed me to indulge in that and shown me that it it possible to play games of that ilk on a pad. I’m never going to go pro, but I wouldn’t have spent 882 hours with TF2 if I was unable to keep up with other players using the sticks and triggers.

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So, here is my plea. Gaming has brought me more joy than anything else in this world. It has allowed me to accomplish physical feats that would otherwise be impossible, it has put me on a level playing field that I never was on in high school gym class, it has been my thing as I’m sure it has been yours if you’re reading this. I ask this not just for me, but for everyone who has it harder than me. I have to tell people that I’m disabled, it’s not obvious, and most people in my position don’t have that luxury. So for everyone who’s ever picked up a game controller and forgotten for a few hours about their various disadvantages, I ask this.

Please stop treating controller support like it is detrimental to PC gaming. Stop trying to convince people that they’re “wasting their time” when they ask for help. Stop suggesting Joy2Key and other external programs, because they’re only a stopgap solution, and they really don’t work that well. Stop saying that this or that genre doesn’t “work” with a controller, because there isn’t a game out there that can’t be made to function with a combination of 17 buttons and a still functioning keyboard for tertiary functions. If all games supported controllers, that wouldn’t magically erase their keyboard and mouse controls, and you can still “stomp” us all you want with your “superior hardware”. If it swings the other way however, like when BioShock 2 stripped out controller support for their PC version due to consumer demand, than people like me are left out in the cold.

Gaming has major image problems. We’re all considered children by the vast majority of the population. Our image in popular culture is that of the whiny twelve year old who curses into his microphone while playing on Xbox Live. The teenage boy who gets hot and bothered by the mere utterance of a female voice in a game of Halo. The man child with a ponytail who attends conventions and speaks like Comic Book Guy. I know we’re better than that, but in order to prove that to the rest of the world, we have to stop treating each other with such callousness. Everyone, from the professional Korean Starcraft player to the frat boys who chug beer and play Call of Duty, to the mom who plays Peggle and Facebook games, are all part of our community. There are no boys’ clubs anymore. Treating the PC like some elite “master race” and rejecting controllers, feeds right back into what society expects of you. I implore you to be more than that.