Using an XBox 360 Controller with a PC: Blasphemy?

PC Gamers have resisted using console controllers with their games. Is it time for this sentiment to change?
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This article could also be called: How I Learned to Love Console Controllers for PC Gaming

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As a long time player of the Elder Scrolls series, RTS games and city builders I have been right alongside other gamers decrying the loss of keyboard and mouse focus in the UIs that have come many franchises and new games. However, recent experiences have led me to begin questioning my one size fits all stance.

My goal is to be as unbiased as possible when thinking about control schemes for various games. So, let’s be clear, there are games that greatly benefit from mouse and keyboard interfaces. Mice have higher precision and tunable precision. In addition, motions on the keyboard do not directly translate to the mouse like they do on a one piece controller. For games with lots of aiming such as FPS games or for games where you click on small items repeatedly like RTS or even city builders.

When it comes to games like Skyrim, I believe that some UI has been lost to provide a controller scheme. A UI that does not have a hierarchy cannot be created and work well for instance. So, more old school UIs of clicking on your characters head to select a helmet or dragging and dropping does not work particularly well. It seems though that the comparable UIs that are built are as, or nearly as, functional.

In the case of games like Skyrim I’m beginning to think that there is actually very little UI lost. I’ve been playing Skyrim with a Rock Candy XBox 360 Controller plugged into my PC and I have to say that I really like the experience. I seem to be a bit more laid back about the game, I like the way head look works and strafing is far more fluid. The interaction feels more fluid all around when it comes to walking. In addition, there are enough buttons for all of the major interface options… mostly.

The pros and cons of controllers on your PC break down like this:

  • Major motions, like walking and strafing, are more fluid with a stick
  • Ergonomic Advantage: Less distance for certain button presses
  • You can lean back in your chair more easily, or put your feet up
  • I’m on a keyboard and mouse working all day, the controller is a nice break
  • Clearly certain UIs were built for a controller
  • Precise aiming takes much more practice. I’m not saying you can’t do it. I’m saying it is much more difficult and requires more practice
  • Ergonomic Advantage: Hands close together can get uncomfortable
  • UI items like text entry go bye-bye
  • Complex UIs that require tons of buttons don’t work, but unlike the console world your PC definitely has a keyboard handy
  • A large non-hierarchical interface like that of a flight simulator will not work
  • You have to buy another device

In summary, I’m really enjoying playing on my PC with a controller. I don’t think it is perfect for every game, but it seems like a solid option for many of them. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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Stephen Johnston
Stephen is the founder of and A life-long gamer who enjoys RTSs, MMOs, RPGs, City Builders, 4x games and FPSs on easy mode. He also enjoys introducing his children to the wonderful world of gaming.