A keyboard and mouse is better for competitive first-person shooters and real-time strategy games. In virtually all other cases, though, a good controller is better thanks to its high level of comfort and intuitive experience.
On PC, and increasingly on gaming consoles, you have your choice of using a controller or using a mouse and keyboard to play your games. Gamers often have strong feelings about which option is superior, but what’s the real answer?
Controller vs. Mouse and Keyboard
Gamers often debate whether it’s better to use a mouse and keyboard or a game controller to play video games. Some argue that a mouse and keyboard offer greater precision and faster reaction times, while others prefer a game controller for its ease of use and comfort during long gaming sessions.
In truth, preferences for one or the other option likely have a lot to do with what you first used and grew up with, but there’s no denying that each choice comes with genuine benefits. So it may not be much of a spoiler to say that which control method is better depends on what you’re trying to play, but if you have a hard time deciding which path is the right one, we’ll break down the pros and cons for you.
Mouse and Keyboard: Strengths and Weaknesses
While we often talk of “mouse and keyboard,” these are two distinct devices, and each should be considered separately. In some cases, you can even use a controller and mouse together instead of a keyboard and mouse, so there is a case for separating these fast friends a little.
The primary strength of a mouse is speed and accuracy. Even a generic optical mouse not designed for gaming will still beat the pants of any controller when it comes to controlling a camera and acquiring a target.
The analog sticks on a controller have a limited range of motion and sensitivity, and so you’ll always have to wait until the camera reaches the right spot before releasing the stick to return to center. With a mouse you can instantly and precisely whip your targeting reticle around 180 degrees and shoot an enemy character between the eyes.
Console versions of games are usually designed to compensate for this in various ways, such as making enemies less dangerous or providing varying levels of aim-assistance. Where your targeting reticule will snap to an enemy if you’re just roughly in the right spot.
The main weakness of a mouse for aiming and camera movement is that you need a flat surface to use it. That means sitting at a desk, or having some sort of flat surface on your lap if you want to use a couch. That’s not nearly as convenient or comfortable as a controller, so if you don’t care about getting a little help from the game when aiming, controllers definitely have a comfort advantage.
As for keyboards, they actually make for a more interesting comparison. Keyboards aren’t analog, so they don’t allow for nuanced movement. With a controller you can make a character move or walk at varying degrees of speed, assuming that the game itself allows for it.
On the other hand, keyboards give you access to numerous buttons literally under your fingertips. On a controller, you have your fingers on two buttons on the left-hand side, and you need to lift your thumb from the left analog stick to use the face buttons. On a keyboard, none of that’s an issue. If you want the best of both worlds, you can also have a one-handed keyboard with an integrated analog thumb stick. Just be aware that not all one-handed keyboards with a thumbstick have an analog one. Most are essentially a D-Pad.
Controller: Strengths and Weaknesses
The biggest advantages a controller has over a mouse and keyboard are simplicity and comfort. Controllers, at least the good ones, are natural and intuitive to use. Once you’re used to where the buttons and controls are, it’s almost impossible to hit the wrong one and you’ll never need to look down at what your hands are doing. While it’s possible to get to the same level of proficiency with a keyboard, the learning curve is steeper and it will take more time.
Moreover, game developers that support controllers for their games are forced to create control schemes that fit the button limitations of the device. This further helps make the controller experience intuitive, since gameplay must be designed around that limitation.
It is also worth noting that controllers, especially modern ones, include advanced haptic feedback which is completely missing with a mouse and keyboard. This adds a layer of immersion to the gaming experience that’s missing with a mouse and keyboard. So if that’s important to you as a player it’s something to consider.
When You Should Use Mouse and Keyboard
Some game genres are simply easier to play with a mouse and keyboard, all things considered. The most obvious game genre that benefits from this control scheme is the ever-popular first-person shooter. Nothing quite matches the feeling of being in perfect control of your character in an FPS game and executing pixel-precise shots. This is especially true for competitive online shooters, and if your console FPS of choice allows for a mouse and keyboard, it’s also a great option on those platforms.
Third-person shooters that rely on precise aiming also benefit from a mouse and keyboard, but most of these games have robust snap-to-aim systems, and often marksmanship isn’t the main attraction.
One game genre that almost certainly works best with a mouse and keyboard is Real-Time Strategy (RTS). There have been a few attempts at getting these types of games to work with controllers, but the results have usually been an unplayable control scheme or an overly-simplified RTS.
When You Should Use a Controller
We’ve already mentioned that controllers are usually the best choice for comfort and convenience, but there are some game genres where they’re genuinely preferable. Any type of game where analog movement is useful, such as platformers, is likely better to play with a controller.
Likewise, the analog triggers on modern controllers make them perfect for games such as racing simulators. Steering, accelerating, and braking using a mouse and keyboard isn’t ideal, and few people have the space for a racing wheel and pedals.
Controllers are more often than not the better overall choice except for the genres we mentioned above. So when in doubt, grab your controller first and see if it works for you.