PC gaming isn’t dead yet, but it most certainly isn’t alive as it once was. Plagued by piracy, and perhaps more so, by developer’s obsession with preventing piracy, PC gaming has been on a gradual downsloap in recent years. A number of developers have jumped ship, turning to consoles for better business. While one could spend an entire article recounting all the things they are leaving behind, in many ways there is one thing that stands out. The mouse.
As consoles grow more powerful many of the gaps that have defined the divide between them and PCs have begun to dissolve. While none of the current systems seems remotely likely to match the graphical intensity of titles like Crysis, for most gamers that is not a necessity. Genres that were once the staple of PC gaming, such as First Person Shooters, are sprouting up in increasing numbers as of late. For all of this however, the mouse is missing.
Anyone who has played an FPS on both a computer and a console can attest to the difference a mouse makes. While console shooters have improved dramatically since the days of Goldeneye, there is an undeniable, albeit increasingly insignificant, slugishness that comes with playing with a controller. An analog stick or directional pad simply cannot replicate the precision of a mousepad and keyboard.
Point in case, sniping is my favorite part of FPS games. Especially in online play, I find nothing more satisfying then hiding in some bushes, lining up some saps skull and dropping them before they even know I’m there. In my experience this can be a frustrating feat with a controller. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been playing Resistance, would have someone in my sights, have them move away as targets tend to do and be unable to catch them because I couldn't shift my crosshairs quickly or accurately enough to catch them on the go. Some games assist you with auto-aim and other such little tweaks, but really, how lame is it when a game has to help you score a kill.
With a mouse this is not a problem. Usually it will be as quick and precise as you can make it. Want to pop someone in the noggin? Simply point, click and bask in the glory of bonus points. There aren’t any of that stupid, pushing the joystick as far as it will go and waiting for the game to catch up with you.
The simple solution to this problem would be to release a mouse controller for consoles, which a number of third party companies have done. But even these options pose problems. There are practical things; part of the fun of a console is being able to relax, slouched back in your couch while you play. Traditional controllers work well with this, mice don’t. The necessity of a flat surface tends to restrict mouse controlled games to desks, not exactly the most comfortable of things to sit at, nor the optimal gaming station for the increasingly social style of video games. Some companies have tried to remedy this; the SplitFish FragFX for instance is adapted to work with the PlayStation 3 and designed in such a way that it can be used while sitting in one’s beloved recliner, but such experiments often have mixed results and not every game supports them. Beyond that, there is the simple question of how many controllers do you really want laying around?
For its various software shortcomings, the Wii offers a potentially revolutionary alternative. While the system has become a seeming dumping ground for shovelware, shooters like Metroid Prime 3 and Resident Evil 4 demonstrated well that when properly implemented, motion controls like the Wii remote can be effective in shooters. If done well enough, such controls could easily render even the mouse obsolete as a controller. This said, the casual direction the Wii seems headed down is hardly one that is likely to break too much ground, and with the other consoles seemingly grounded in traditional control styles, we may have to wait until another new generation of systems before we can hope for some real innovation.
Looking at the issue of console mice, there doesn’t seem to be a clean cut answer. I, for one, think that PC gaming is heading towards its grave. It will never die out completely, franchises like the Sims amongst others will certainly keep it afloat, but the problems that plague it are not about to disappear. Third party alternatives are available, but I doubt they will ever become widespread. They themselves may become obsolete as more interesting possibilities come into play. In truth, the mouse, for its undeniable, often unsung role in the history of gaming, may be a thing of the past.