PC Gaming: Why ESDF is Better than WASD

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Posted May 27, 2014 by Chad Waller in Video Games

As we move deeper into the first year of a new console generation, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I am a PC gamer. I’ve known about this for some time now, yet I didn’t expect to be so apathetic towards the new consoles. I still don’t own an Xbox One, and I don’t expect I will until Halo 5 shows up. Until then, I have a nice PC, which has been my primary method of gaming for quite a few years now.

That isn’t to say PC gaming is perfect though. In fact, there’s one PC-gaming facet that bothers me, and it’s something I have to deal with every time I purchase a new game: Remapping the WASD keys to ESDF.

It’s sort of a sick ritual, and depending on the quality of the game, one that can take more than a few minutes.

You see, ESDF is an objectively better layout than WASD.

keyboard1

Here we have a keyboard. I’ve put WASD in red and ESDF in blue, and the overlay keys are in purple. The first thing you should notice when you look at that image is how cramped the red side is in comparison to the blue.

Here are all of the keys you can reliably and comfortably hit when using the WASD setup:

keyboard2

The total number is 20. (I have excluded the Z key because hitting it while on WASD feels awkward and unreliable.)

Here are all of the keys you can reliably and comfortably hit when using the ESDF setup:

keyboard3

The total number is 25. (I have included the Z key because hitting it while on ESDF feels fine, though I’ll admit to rarely mapping anything to that button unless I absolutely need to.)

Five extra keys might not seem like much, but when you’re playing an MMO, any kind of RPG, or just a really complicated FPS, those five extra keys become quite valuable. When I used to play World of Warcraft, I needed to use every highlighted button on that ESDF keyboard, and some I used twice thanks to macros and other in-game workarounds. WASD would not have cut it when raiding or end-game PVP were concerned.

I realize that most games these days don’t require five extra keys, and given that gaming mice come loaded with their own extra buttons, there’s more than enough room to keep the default keyboard settings. Yet why would you want to when ESDF is the standard finger setup for normal keyboard usage?

When I learned how to type back in first or second grade, I was taught the Home Row. Everyone who uses a keyboard knows this row as ASDF / JKL;. When approaching a keyboard, the natural state of your hand should be to place your pointer finger on the F key and the rest on ASD. To do anything else feels strange and cumbersome, and I find that using WASD throws off the ingrained muscle memory in my hand. If my pointer finger isn’t on F with its little bump, then I don’t know where anything else is.

To naturally type is to use the Home Row in its natural way, and typing is a big part of online PC gaming. Communication is important, be it telling a team member what to do or simply cursing out the player that just killed you. Not everyone has a microphone or is comfortable with one, and that leaves typing. When you type, you use the Home Row.

If your hand is stuck on the WASD setup, then every time you want to communicate with someone, you have to shift that hand over one row of keys. It’s a step that feels strange, and it’s a step that’s completely unnecessary when using the ESDF setup.

Now, I understand that we all have our own preferences, and no preference is inherently wrong over another. My hands are comfortable with what they like. But, there is a greater precedent for ESDF than WASD, and so it puzzles me that WASD is the default setting for all games on the PC. Perhaps PC gaming started off with WASD for an obscure reason and only stays that way due to tradition, but traditions become arbitrary as time passes and there’s no need for WASD now.

And certain games simply have too many buttons to default to WASD.

ESDF is—objectively—better, even if you subjectively prefer something else. It leaves room for more keys, feels natural, and allows for easier communication during the heat of play.

And both are objectively better than plugging in a controller and pretending your PC is one of those inferior consoles. For shame.


About the Author

Chad Waller

Chad Waller is the cofounder of Dual Wield Software, a two-man video game company that just published The Land of Glass on Steam. You should check it out! You can follow him on Twitter @DualWieldSoft and find his company page on Facebook with a quick search.