Why I don't use WASD

Written by Paul Goodhead

June 24, 2010 | 10:18

Tags: #control #wasd

When I was younger I shattered my left forearm while skateboarding. It was a full on bones-sticking-out-of-the-skin kind of moment and it took two plates, eight screws and a couple of hours of surgery to get my arm back together again.

To make things worse, during its journey towards the outside world the sharp end of my broken bone severed a number of nerves; specifically the ones responsible for the feeling and movement of my fingers. Essentially I was left with little feeling or movement in my left hand thumb, little finger and ring finger. [break]

Over time the bones healed and the nerves did their best to knit back together but I'm still left with reduced dexterity in my thumb and a lack of feeling in my little finger.

I'm not claiming this is any kind of problem in everyday life, it's not like I've got some sort of deformed claw for a left hand, but it has affected the controls I use in FPS and RPG games. It's something that always seems to draw a comment

Take a basic game such as Counter Strike: Source as an example. The controls are ones most bit-tech readers should be familiar with; the W, A, S and D keys control movement with the mouse buttons responsible for fire and alt fire. Other controls such as jump, reload and walk are handled by keys close to the central WASD keys.

Why I don't use WASD
The 'WASD' controls have become the de-facto standard for game controls. Click to enlarge.

My control set-up on the other hand is slightly different. Firstly, movement needs to be split between the mouse and the keyboard; the right mouse button is forward, Alt Gr is backwards and left and right strafe are comma and full stop respectively. I use semi colon to reload, M to walk and N to duck. Shift is use, spacebar is jump and forward slash is sprint (though CS:S doesn't use it). Alt fire is bound to Mouse 4 and Mouse 3 (roll wheel click) is spare - in CS:S it's bound to a grenade macro, in TF2 its set to call MEDIC.

So how did I settle on this inside out control scheme? In truth I don't know for certain, it just kind of came about as I worked out what I could and could not do. It wasn't a case of planning out my controls to be as competitive as possible back then; it was more to do with maximising comfort and minimizing frustration.

There were a few distinct problems that I had to work around though and the whole control scheme grew up as as i changed it to tackle each one. Firstly, my fingers would get tired quickly after the accident, hence forward movement migrated to the mouse as holding down W constantly made my hand ache.

Secondly, with a lack of feeling in my little finger it was difficult to distinguish between Caps Lock, Shift and Ctrl, meaning I'd walk when I wanted to duck and vice versa. I needed my little finger to perform one task and one task only as it's not tactile enough to feel different keys. Hence in my control scheme its only job is to sit on Space. Crouching and walking is now delegated to my ring finger (N and M)

Why I don't use WASD
Having an alternate control set up makes sharing computers a nightmare

Thirdly, my thumb doesn't bend so it doesn't sit on the space bar naturally when using WASD. Bringing my controls down to centre around the comma and full stop keys takes my thumb out of the game completely, which is a disadvantage (I've got less fingers to allocate controls too) but one I try to get around by using more of the buttons available on the mouse.

These controls aren't necessarily perfect for every game and I struggle when a game has lots of controls that I have to try and cram into my little corner of the keyboard. I also miss out on having easy access to any macro keys on my keyboard as these are usually on the far left of the board.

In the back of my mind I know that these controls were only absolutely necessary when my hand was much worse than it is now. It's entirely likely that these days I could use WASD with a bit of practice. Habit is a strong thing though, and this scheme is now so ingrained in my muscle memory that its just plain strange to use anything else.

I'd be interested to hear whether anyone else uses a particularly strange custom control scheme and why they do, I'm sure there must be others out there for whom it is necessary.

Image credit: Flickr user JerryLuo0520
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