Enter a gaming household and you will hear the “click, click, click” of the true gamer as he (or she) takes on the video world. The little tick noise, punctuated with some online smack talk, is what makes a good gamer into a great gamer. Just like an IRL soldier, decent equipment is what will take you from being a commonplace commando into a force to be reckoned with. Unlike real warfare however, going back in time—in this case using a mechanical keyboard—is the best way to gain your edge.
Why Old School Is Best
Take a look at an old movie like “War Games” with a young Matthew Broderick, and you will see him typing on a mechanical keyboard. This kind of keyboard has a little spring and a connection point under each key. This contact is called the actuation point. Compared to modern technology, which uses a membrane connection, mechanical keyboards take less time and force on each keystroke to reach the actuation point. When speed is factor, cutting down your reaction time by several milliseconds can mean the difference between virtual life and death.
The other important difference between mechanical and membrane keyboards is the sound. Mechanical keyboards make a little click noise when they actuate, giving the player auditory feedback that the task has been completed.
What Makes Them Awesome
Like placing a nuclear engine on your childhood bike, gaming manufacturers have taken mechanical keyboards and revamped them for greatness. Patrick Miller of PCWorld recently reviewed several modernized mechanical keyboards. One of the first things he noted is how they feel and sound different. He described them as “crunchy.” The sound and feel, along with the fact that they are heavy, makes them seem more tangible and enhances the gaming experience.
Some companies, like CODE, have added a small o-ring to the key with the intention of cutting down the actuation time by bouncing the key back up to its starting position. This addition also changes the sound from a clank to a click, according to the CODE site. If you really want to geek out on the uses of o-rings in keyboards (and pretty much anything else), then take a look at Apple Rubber. They take their rubber very seriously and provide a deformation graph which is the property that gives the key its bounce back.
The Next Best Thing
Engineers are busily working to make the mechanical keyboard even better. One group has even interlaced low-resolution infrared sensors between each key on the keyboard in an attempt to capture the keystroke motion faster and register larger hand movements while still retaining all of the auditory and physical feedback of a mechanical keyboard. This will expand a gamer’s range of input. Instead of just using WASD letter movement, this would add hand wave controls much like we see in Xbox Kinect or PS3 Move.