When it comes to the computer, the default way to play games is with a mouse and keyboard. This has been the way since way back when Windows 1.0 released and it will keep being the way for the foreseeable future.
However, not everyone likes this way to play games. Some find the abundance of buttons annoying and hard to remember, others find the mouse and keyboard setup to be not very comfortable at all, and finally, there are those who simply never got used to using the classic combo. For them, what are the alternative input devices?
Gamepads, a good alternative for action games.
We already wrote about why would you choose a gamepad over a mouse and keyboard in the past. The skinny of it is that thanks to the analog stick of the controller, you can control movement much better than with the WASD keys.
A gamepad has 4 face buttons instead of keys, which are easier to reach and memorize if you haven´t grown up playing with a keyboard. Also, it has two analog sticks, one for the camera and one for movement, and triggers for your fingers to squeeze.
So, if you are looking for an input device to play games on your own, a gamepad would be the usual choice over a mouse and keyboard. Windows can detect practically every controller on the market, the most common being the Xbox Wireless controller. If you want a more comprehensive list, check out our page on PC controllers here.
But the gamepad does have some drawbacks. While the analog sticks are superior to the keys for precision and control, they are inferior to a regular mouse. In games that require you to move a cursor or aim at your opponents, using a gamepad puts you at a disadvantage. Your opponents will be able to aim and shoot at you way faster than you can shoot back.
So, a gamepad is not optimal for shooters, but what if you still want to move with an analog stick and have access to the rest of the keys, is there an alternative for that?
Replace your keyboard with a more focused keypad.
Imagine if someone sawed off a quarter your keyboard, put an analog stick at the side and then called the resulting amalgamation a controller, that´s what a keypad is.
When using a keypad, your fingers press the keys while your right thumb is on the stick. This leaves your other hand free to control the mouse as you normally would with a keyboard. They can also double as an ergonomic keyboard of sort.
Despite not sounding like a well-thought-of product, keypads are quite good at what they do. They give you all the keys you could need in a PC game and an analog stick to boot, combining the "best" of both worlds.
Another advantage of the keypad is its size. A keyboard is quite long if you use one you pretty much have to play on a desk because your couch or chair will not have enough space for it. With a keypad and a wireless mouse the story changes, you can play from pretty much everywhere, including a sofa.
The main drawback of this type of controller is that they are more expensive than both a keyboard and a gamepad. This is especially true if you want a gaming keypad with a thumbstick and a wrist rest. The more expensive ones can cost well into hundred of dollars.
So, which keypad should you use? Which one should work? Well, most of them will work on Windows, you´ll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn´t. The Razer Orbweaver and the Razer Tartarus are both good options to choose from.
But, if you still don´t like the idea of using a quarter of a keyboard as your main controller, you have another alternative, the Hori TAC GRIP.
While I joked about keypads being sawed-off keyboards, the TAC GRIP really is just the left half of a gamepad. With only the stick, triggers and the directional pad, this hybrid was made to be dual-wielded with a regular mouse. It lacks some of the buttons that more complex games use, but it can work nicely if you don´t want to use anything with keys.
But maybe it´s not the keyboard you have a problem with, but the mouse, in that case...
If you find the mouse uncomfortable, try these ergonomic alternatives.
As we mentioned in our article about dealing with wrist pain, there exist ergonomic mice if you find the normal mouse to be too unwieldy.
However, before we look at each of these alternatives, keep in mind that if you find your current mouse to be uncomfortable, it might be the wrong size for your hand. You should be able to grasp it and the buttons on the palm of your hand without bending your fingers, otherwise it might be time to start shopping for a smaller/larger mouse.
Now, if you want to get a more comfortable mouse, you are looking at two alternatives. A vertical mouse for a more ergonomic posture and to reduce the risk of carpal tunnel, or you can get a mouse with a trackpad so that you can control your movement and still use the keyboard for other actions.
For ergonomics and comfort, try a vertical mouse. Their main difference over the regular mouse is that you hold them much like if you were giving it a handshake, this helps prevent carpal tunnel as you aren´t pinching the median nerve while you use them. It also naturally improves your posture by keeping your wrist in a more neutral position.
The disadvantage of this type of mouse is that they aren't built for gaming, so they have less sensibility than a standard mouse. Then again, you don't need that much precision outside of tournaments, so they still work well if you want to play by yourself.
If you don´t care about ergonomics, and just want a better way to play games, consider getting a mouse with a stick at the side like the ROG Chakram. This allows you to stop relying on the WASD keys while keeping the rest of the keyboard for the other actions. Or you know, a good old trackball.
Other, more extreme alternatives
Now, there are a few crazier options to choose from if nothing so far managed to catch your eye. The Razer Hydra, for example, is one such alternative. Think of this controller as a Wiimote and Nunchuck but for your PC.
Thanks to a weak magnetic field, the Hydra detects your motions and allows you to aim and move the camera by pointing it around. This might sound awful to a lot of people, but motion controls do have their fans and advantages.
Another "radical" solution is using a joystick, either from a flight simulator or a fighting game, as the replacement for the keyboard. Any joystick that works with Windows will do, but this solution does require quite a bit of key-binding and setup to make it work well.
And that´s it.
And there you have it, the alternatives to playing with a mouse and keyboard on PC. The easiest one to use is the gamepad, but that one is a bad option for shooters or strategy games.
If you want to replace your keyboard, a keypad would do nicely, or the Hori Tac pro. If your problem is with the mouse, on the other hand, you can get a more ergonomic vertical mouse or a mouse with an analog stick at the sides.
Or, you could just go for a regular gaming mouse. Learn how to clean your mouse pad here.