Controller Woes: Aging and D-Pads

915 words.

I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls Remastered lately, which requires playing on a controller. Technically you can play the game with mouse-and-keyboard on PC (and it’s even easier in the Remastered edition) but the control scheme is completely alien to any other mouse-and-keyboard game, and it takes a lot of getting used to, and it’s just not worth the effort for one game. Even the controller scheme takes a fair amount practicing and learning, even if you’re used to using controller.

I don’t usually mind using a controller, in fact a lot of times it’s easier to deal with. But unfortunately I’ve discovered that my tolerance for playing a controller game every day is about a week before my hands start to complain. After two weeks I have to get out some ice packs and ibuprofen. Particularly it’s that first joint on my thumbs, the very thing that supposedly allowed us to evolve to our modern society.

It’s not precisely the gaming that hurts-I don’t (usually) feel discomfort while I’m playing the game-it’s all the other little tasks I do throughout the day that require gripping with the thumb and fingers, like picking up plates, or picking up a laptop, or opening jars, or holding a pen, or minor little things like that. My thumbs become “weakened” from the gaming so they are more prone to being hurt by all that other stuff if I forget to go easy, which is basically every single time.

Artist's rendition of what it's like to use a controller as an "aging gamer."

I ranted a little bit about this on Twitter: Where are the controllers that we aging gamers can use? And no, Internet, if your gaming youth was spent on the Super Nintendo you are not the aging gamer I’m talking about here. (I did some Googling on this and some of the top results were “10 signs that you’re an aging gamer” articles which were so obviously written by 20-somethings trying imagine what that crazy impossible concept known as “being old” might be like.)

I don’t really expect Sony or Microsoft to make these controllers, because I’m sure they couldn’t care less if anyone over 30 played games, but it sure would be nice if some enterprising third party would make some “large print” controllers for us. (This would also require Sony and Microsoft to allow and support third party controllers for this purpose, something I’m not sure they do.) A controller that did not require actually holding down a button or a stick with either thumb would be ideal. The left thumb currently has to hold the left analog stick in some direction continuously for the entire gaming session, while the right thumb often has to hold down a button to run.

I guess I’ll have to figure out some kind of regimen where I only use a controller every other day, or something like that. It’s just that it’s kind of hard to simply not play a game when you’re super into it and can’t wait to get to the next part. It’s not even that I’m playing 12 hours a day or anything, either, we’re just talking a couple hours a day here, and you know, maybe four or five on weekends.

Anyway, ranting aside, back to Dark Souls and the differences between controllers.

I started out this time playing on my trusty old Xbox 360 controller, but I plugged in my new PS4 controller into my PC so I could start to get used to it for the PS4 games I’ll eventually be playing someday. It’s a far better build quality than the Xbox 360 controller, and the buttons are far easier to press, which is good for my thumbs, but I feel like the positioning and layout isn’t as good-it’s physically wider and doesn’t fit my hands as well. Also, I like the position of the d-pad on the Xbox 360 controller a lot better.

Super easy to reach the d-pad with the right thumb on the dirty, grimy old Xbox 360 controller.
Oh noes I can't reach the d-pad buttons on the PS4 controller! I can't change weapons while I'm running! I can't get my spells and potions ready! I'm doomed! Who allowed this massive design flaw??

I knew it would take time to get used to the new controller, but it’s not so much a “change” here as it is a “this thing I’m used to is not there any more.” You simply cannot reach the d-pad with your right thumb on the PS4 controller, period, the end. Playing Dark Souls on the PS4 controller and not being able to switch weapons with my right thumb feels like playing with a limb cut off. You have to hold the left analog stick in some position with your left thumb to move almost constantly in every game, which makes the d-pad useless on a PS4 controller unless you stop moving, which can be a major cause of death. :)

For whatever other flaws Microsoft may have, they really nailed the layout of a game controller. Can you use an Xbox controller on a PS4? Actually, it turns out you can, if you can afford to throw more than a hundred dollars away on an Xbox One controller and an adapter gizmo, just to reach a d-pad easier.

But I’ll probably just buy an Xbox One controller for my PC and leave the Sony controllers in the living room.

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