The recently released SmartJoy FRAG keyboard/mouse adapter for PS2 and Xbox is bridging an age-old gap in the way two different gaming cultures function, and could cause fundamental changes in the way console games are played. The staple input devices of the PC gaming world have made their way to the console market. The effects of this move will be felt primarily amongst console first-person shooter players, as the keyboard/mouse setup has been long reputed to be the pinnacle of precision control for aiming and movement. Now, with its availability as a control option for console play, the somewhat less responsive nature of the analog thumb stick runs the risk of being bested on its own turf.

In many respects computer and console gaming are merging together. The Xbox has blurred the line even more by basically housing a computer beneath the guise of a console exterior. Although this does not necessarily predict the direction of consoles and computers as a whole, it does contend that certain boundaries exist that should be maintained if console gaming is to retain its distinctive identity. One of these boundaries is the input device used by each platform – you sit down on a couch with your controller in hand to play a console game. A computer, with its mouse and keyboard setup, necessitates a desk, not a couch. I’m not going to sit myself down on the couch with three of my friends with a mouse and keyboard tray.

In many respects computer and console gaming are merging together.

Due in part to something as simple as the control interface, console and computer gaming have developed out of two separate traditions, and have different strengths and qualities because of it. The controller-and-couch tradition resulted in the development of console-based gaming, which emphasizes playing side by side with others, sharing a screen and social experience; a style wholly separate from desk/mouse/keyboard tradition. Certainly controllers are not on the verge of extinction, but the SmartJoy FRAG does pose a threat to its dominance in the console marketplace.

One way to ensure the persistence of controllers in the future is to keep competitive gaming controller-only. That way those who take their game of choice very seriously will continue to master the game using the controller. MLG seems to have made a statement about this by not allowing mouse/keyboard use in any of its tournaments. It would, however, be interesting to see how many of the top Xbox Live competitors are using (or converting to) the SmartJoy FRAG. Seeing the number of MLG players at the top of the leader boards does indicate that the trusty old controller S and the original XXL model are faring just fine for the time being though.

The fact that using a mouse and keyboard requires an adapter such as the FRAG will hinder its spread beyond the serious gamers, and since competitive console gaming probably won’t allow its use, we’re safe with our thumb sticks and trigger buttons for the time being.

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