There are certain things in life that fall into the “I didn’t even know I needed one until I tried one” category. For example, I found the very idea of a GPS in the car to help me find places to be the height of irrelevancy when measured against my innate sense of direction and my familiarity with maps. Then I tried one. More precisely, I tried one when I got turned around and lost when forced to take an unplanned detour. Or, as another example, consider a heated driver’s seat. That seemed to be a purely unnecessary luxury, right up until I turned one on during an early morning drive one frigid February morning. Now I will not have a car that doesn’t include heated seats.
This week, I tried a gaming keyboard. “Why,” I asked myself, “would I possibly want a ‘gaming’ keyboard?” And, in my normal way of missing the most obvious question by asking a useless rhetorical question, I then asked, “Wait. What makes a keyboard a ‘gaming’ keyboard in the first place?” Good question, that, and thankfully easily answered by the folks at SteelSeries.
As it turns out, there’s far more to it than just pretty decals, decorations, copyrighted game branding, and glowing lights. Which isn’t to say that SteelSeries doesn’t have a full line of such keyboards; they do. But those are just bell and whistles. The real meat of a gaming keyboard is, not surprisingly, in the keys. There are two primary issues/weaknesses with regular keyboards that are addressed in a gaming keyboard: performance and durability.
Durability is the easier of the two to describe. It is simply this: can the keyboard stand up to the rigors of millions of key presses (an issue that I suspect is centered primarily around the ‘W’, ‘A’, ‘S’, and ‘D’ keys) and the periodic pounding of a frustrated fist? The answer for the typical keyboard that comes out of the box alongside even the highest-end PCs is a resounding “No!” No less critically, the question of durability arises when transporting the keyboard to and from LAN parties, conventions, and competitions. The keyboard itself may or may not survive, but those two weak little feet in the back corners? I lose those more often than I lose socks in the drier.
Wait! LAN parties?? Do people still do that??? Okay, you can skip that one.
This brings us to performance. In some ways, performance is tangentially related to durability in that the materials used to add robustitude to the keyboard often introduce improvements in performance. Consider the normal low-budget keyboard with its plastic membrane or rubber domes under each key. They feel mushy, they can be slow to respond, and they only get worse with time. These are not the traits and weaknesses that are going to endear a keyboard to the gamer. In fact, they greatly increase the odds that an aging keyboard will meet its final, inevitable demise in the form of the aforementioned frustrated fist.
Less obviously, most keyboards can only handle so many simultaneous key presses at a time without overwhelming whatever little gizmo it is that elicits a tinny beep when it can’t handle the information being passed to it by the overtaxed keyboard. While I’m not a sophisticated or talented enough gamer to ever need to press that many keys in a deliberate fashion (my personal mode being more along the lines of two frustrated fists), it would seem that there are people that need to be able to hold down multiple keys simultaneously. If there weren’t, SteelSeries wouldn’t have solved for it.
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