It’s got lights. And lights. And… more lights?
I’ve been using computers for pretty much all my life. I was practically brought up with a keyboard in one hand and a mouse in the other… which I swapped for a book of law and a book of psychology… which I swapped for a headset and a map… which I swapped for a stethoscope and a bedpan… which I’m swapping for two books of law. I’ve tried my hand at plenty of different roles (Criminologist, dispatcher, nurse, medic, tradie, and soon solicitor) but I’ve always kept computers as one of my primary skills. Like if this was an RPG, I’d have a lot of points in Computers. After doing this for so long, and being primarily a PC gamer all this time, I’ve noticed how things have changed. I’m certain that those of you who share my background probably have noticed the progression of things in the gaming sphere as well. No, this isn’t a rant about the decline of PC gaming or anything like that. It’s about the problems endemic with some PC “gaming” hardware and tech sites.
When the “golden age” of PC gaming started (the 1990s) there wasn’t much in the way of “gaming specific” hardware. There were joysticks, and the Gravis PC Gamepad, and that was pretty much it. Even the sound cards of the era weren’t primarily aimed at gamers. There were no gaming keyboards, no gaming cases, no gaming mice, and no performance hardware. Video cards didn’t talk about shader clocks or pipelines or VRAM, they talked about supported resolutions, EGA/CGA/VGA and shit like that. The first real “gaming” hardware that came in were 3D accelleration video cards like the Vooodoo series. That was literally it. We all used standard keyboards which you cound find in pretty much any office environment, and we used standard mice that wouldn’t look out of place on your boss’s desk.
Then PC gaming took off and now we have a plethora of “gaming” hardware. Of course the most obvious sector is the video card sector, which somehow manages to keep releasing new hardware every 6 months whether it’s warranted or not. There are gaming sound cards these days, most of which became borderline useless when Windows Vista’s new audio subsystem tore apart Creative’s iron grip on the market, making EAX absolutely useless (and yes, the same system exists in Windows 7, so Creative have only themselves to blame). Then there are the keyboards, mice, and cases.
To be fair, some of the hardware is particularly good, and I’ve found that gaming mice in particular tend to be more accurate and sensitive pieces of hardware. My old Logitech G5 was just recently retired and it was easily one of the best mice I’ve ever owned. I’ve now got a Razer Mamba, which so far is also fantastic. Gaming keyboards? Well, the verdict varies. Some of them do offer an advantage because you can press multiple keys at the same time without the keyboard throwing a fit. To save on manufacturing costs, keyboards often won’t allow certain combinations of keys to be pressed at the same time. Normally the combinations won’t occur in normal typing, but they can sometimes occur in gaming. Like holding shift and spacebar might cause the spacebar key not to be recognised. Often it occurs more when 3 keys are held down at once. Gaming keyboards often avoid these issues, or at least avoid them for keys important for gaming. Gaming cases often offer large spaces for ventilation, as well as cable management, easily removable sections, and other features that make working in the case a lot easier or allow for better expansion. All of these things are a Good Idea (tm?).
But there’s something that bothers me with gaming hardware. It’s this disturbing tend to backlight everything and add lots of ridiculous things that you’ll never use. Gaming cases often come in ridiculous colour schemes and have badges and branding all over them, and frequently have lights coming out of every available space. Gaming keyboards can often be distinguished by the fact that they’ve backlit, or have other lights that serve no real purpose. The Logitech G15’s initial release had an absurd number of macro keys, which I’m pretty sure nobody really used. The 2nd revision, the one I’m using, has only 6 macro keys. Another thing about the 2nd G15 revision is that it uses a dimmer orange light, as opposed to the eye-searing blue or bright red that most cases use. Dim red is best for low light conditions, and the orange in the Logitech isn’t too far off. Bright blue, bright red, or bright green is bad, yet any gaming product released seems to have some sort of unwritten rule that it MUST have absurdly bright LEDs. Also the product must look like it’s from the future, not something you’d plausibly find on a desk. At times it makes everything look a bit juvenile. My G15 is a fantastic keyboard to type on (even if mine is pretty much wrecked from years of service and abuse) but it looks like it should be in some 14 year old kid’s grubby workstation, not on my desk. The same with the Razer Mamba: it looks like a toy.
I recently looked into getting a mechanical keyboard. I love the CLACK-CLACK-CLACK feeling of mechanical keyboards. It’s an acquired taste, and I’ve gotten used to the membrane keyboards which rule the market today, but I still long for keys that have a bit of travel in them. There are two that I can easily get; the Razer Blackwidow, and the Steelseries 7G or 6Gv2. The BlackWidow was one of my more obvious choices, but it looks ridiculous at times. The font uses some stupid “futuristic” look which really has no purpose except to look different, and it looks childish. The Ultimate version is blue backlit, like practically every other “gaming” device out there. Why the eye-searing blue? Why the ridiculous font? It has macro keys, but it doesn’t have easily accessible media keys. About the only thing it does to save face is keep a solid colour. The Steelseries boards look like actual office keyboards, except they’re built with an absurd amount of reinforcement. They look a lot more professional and like something you wouldn’t feel ridiculous about explaining to people who stare at your desk.
Gaming websites are just as bad in some ways, especially some of the hardware websites. Massive Flash advertisements, UI elements plastering every possibly piece of screen real-estate, Flash used for the simplest of graphs comparing performance, massive backgrounds, loads of digital art… it never friggin’ ends. Tom’s Hardware takes the right approach by delivering information in a simple fashion; no fancy bullshit, just the god damned facts. Then there are other tech sites which have huge banners for every article, and little Flash animations that show bars moving across the chart. Why? What’s wrong with a stock-standard PNG or something of the graph? The end result is the same. Instead there are 4 or 5 Flash animations loading up without any real reason. Also there are a lot of ridiculous grammatical and structuring issues with some tech and gaming sites. I’m not saying that DisCONNECT is perfect, but hell this isn’t a major blog and there’s no money being made here at all. When I see crappy writing on the major tech sites, it sticks out like a sore thumb, and it’s like some 12 year old was writing a comment for a shitty forum.
I’m not saying that a bit of flashy stuff is a bad thing and that all gaming hardware and sites have to look like corporate fronts, with everything as “SRS BZNS” as possible. It’d be pretty boring if it was. But there’s a weird obsession with R/B/G lights, massive amounts of digital art, Flash advertisements, pointless asthetics that look juvenile, and other nonsense which makes gaming seem a bit ridiculous, especially for outsiders looking in. It’s a stark contrast to the demands that gamers deliver to be treated like a serious “artform” or more “adult”. It’s a bit hard for people to take us seriously when our gaming systems have more lights in the local airfield. I really don’t think it’d hurt hardware manufacturers to port some of the useful gaming features (like high performance mice and keyboards) to more professional-looking hardware.
As for sites that still think that massive banners, Flash animations for every single UI element, and ridiculous amounts of digital art – your time was over in 2005. STOP MAKING SHIT.