Thoughts on games, fingers & fun

As expected I’ve not been in-world much over xmas & new year. After three months of being crazy busy at work and running the very demanding Steal Head story I needed a long break awayfrom SL, Steelhead, the Ning, this blog, writing, the lot. I’ve picked up my laptop or phone (on which I’m writing this very post) a few times but nothing has come; it’s as if my brain simply does not want to think about anything and, frankly, that’s fine with me.

As part of this annual “shut down” I’ve been unfaithful to SL again and bought some other games to play. Last xmas it was the rather wonderful Borderlands & Portal as well as the just OK Ghostbusters & Mirror’s Edge. This year it’s been the disappointing Black Ops, too-hard-to-move Deep Space & a bit dull Amnesia. On balance I’d have to say that last year’s choices won and, for me at least, there is a common factor linking the failure of a majority of these titles to hold my attention past longer than a few plays (hell, in some cases past the first hour) and that is their controls.

Let me explain. Whilst I’ve never owned a console (nary a NES, SNES, PS, Wii or XBox has passed my front door) I have friends who have bought each and every console ever released so naturally I’ve therefore played on most of them and to to a man, jack, dog the thing they all have in common is that I’m utterly, utterly, UTTERLY! crap at using their controllers. Really I am, I don’t know why, I just am. There seems to be too many buttons to press all over the bloody things, too many directions to move too many joysticks and d-pads in at once. It’s like asking a new born foal to rub its tummy and pat its head whilst trampolining through a war zone. Even the simplest of FPSers or driving games or beat-em-eps  has me wildly jabbing, squeezing, and occasionally dropping the ergonomically designed mind-fuckers like some kind of drunk vicar unsuccessfully juggling triplets at a christening.

No, not for me the A-B-C L-R Thumb D-Pad dance. I play like I type… with two fingers. Throw a mouse in there and I have all I need to happily play a shooty shooty game like Left 4 Dead on my PC until I pass out from lack of sleep/food/water. But if you go much beyond that then I’m fooked and it’s in this regard that the above mentioned games let me down – they seem to assume I have an extra hand and at least one more eye than I actually have. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the biggest offenders seem to be console ports or that chief amongst them are Microsoft’s XBox games, after all the game play is all based around the perfectly designed handsets and not a long, flat QWERTY keyboard.

The straw that broke the camel’s back (not to mention had the camel ranting at the computer like a camel who’d grown up with navvies) was Dead Space. I’d come to expect that MickeySoft’s games would have at least three screens of mappable keys (movement, actions, interactions) and it would be an enormous ballache trying to remap them so my cack-handed hands could cope, but when faced with the fact I simply couldn’t remap all the keys, only some of them, my ballache took on an almost mythic quality that would have made God punch a kitten. The death knell for this particular title came down to two bastard things – the movement was locked to keys instead of mouse, and simple gun firing had been complicated with a frustrating two-stage aim-then-fire affair that proved to be messy, slow and counter-intuitive. I’ve no way of knowing whether it works any better on the XBox and frankly I don’t care as I don’t have one – it doesn’t work on a PC and that’s all that matters to me.

I don’t know… maybe I should get an XBox controller for my PC and try it, but when a game like Left 4 Dead (and its even more amazing sequel) manages to work using just my two hands and single pair of eyes I sort of think fuck it, why bother? Either they make the controls more intuitive (or at the very least fully mappable) or I’ll just not bother.

Now if you excuse me, I’m off to play Left 4 Dead 2, a game that removes the need to think about the controls and lets me, well, play the game. Grab a shottie & some ammo and meet me down in New Orleans – we’ve got some zombies that need a damn good talking to 🙂


  1. I’m amazed you can write multiple paragraphs on a phone – I’m lucky to get off a tweet or a brief email. This reply is being composed hunt-and-peck style on an iPad, and it’s a tad tedious.

    I’ve never owned a game console, either – my folks did own an original Atari system back in the day, but I hardly think that counts, do you? – but yeah, I look at gamers working their fingers furiously and have no idea how they do it.

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