Most games are a test of skill. You either face the game itself, or other players, and in either case your ability to interact with and manipulate the game ultimately determines success or failure. Or that’s the idea, at least.
Reality is a bit different. While skill is indeed the most important factor, it’s not the only one. The equipment a gamer has can make him more or less effective, and that might in turn make the difference between victory and defeat. Not all devices are equally advantageous, however; here are some of the most useful.
Dual Or Multiple Monitors
The long duration of the last console generation has made gaming on multiple monitors an obtainable reality for PC gamers with (relatively) affordable hardware. Besides looking cool, multiple monitors can give you an advantage in certain games.
How? Having more than one monitor increases your virtual field-of-view. This works best in first-person games, like shooters and racers, where what’s displayed is literally your character’s vision. Having three displays, for example, will let you see objects to your left and right that would be out of your FOV on a lone display.
Such set-ups can also work well in strategy games that offer support for the feature. Some titles, like Supreme Commander, will let you use one monitor as a tactical display while the other is zoomed out for a more strategic view. Other games simply allow a wider camera view, which is also an advantage, as you’ll be able to see more of the battlefield at once.
Surround Sound Headset Or Headphones
A good headset isn’t just for competitive multiplayer gamers. Everyone who plays can enjoy the benefits, which extend not just to the quality of the experience, but also a slight improvement of player skill.
The key is surround sound and how it impacts the player’s awareness. Let’s say you’re playing a stealth game, for example, and you hear an enemy nearby. On a stereo system you’ll notice the presence of an opponent, but you may have trouble determining the exact location. A good surround headset will provide a more accurate re-creation of the sound, which in turn will help you pinpoint where it originated in the game world.
And that provides the split-second warning separating “Boooooyaaaa!” from “dang, where’d he come from?”
Note that while headphones might work, they’re usually not as good as gaming-specific headsets. Extremely accurate surround isn’t as important for music, so you’ll have to pay a lot more for equivalent surround quality.
Kontrol Freek Gamesticks
The current console gamepads are pretty freakin’ good – just compare them to the original Xbox or the Jaguar! Still, they’re not absolutely perfect, and the joysticks can be a source of frustration. Though adequate, they’re not precise or subtle.
Kontrol Freak has come up with a simple improvement; a cap over the existing joysticks that make gives them some extra height. This can improve accuracy by smoothing out subtle movements and increasing range of motion. The sticks are split into three different variants for different applications; Speed Freek, great for racing games, FPS Freek, built for shooters, and Rcade Freek, which is for classic games.
The latter of this trio is more of a novelty, but Speed Freek and FPS Freek can in fact improve your control and accuracy. And, because these are just simple plastic and rubber sticks, they’re inexpensive. Most variants are $9.99 for a set of two.
I was skeptical of gaming eyewear for several years until, one day, I mentioned them during an appointment with my optometrist. Rather than dismissing the idea, he said they could be helpful and suggested that I consider some for computer the eye-strain problems I’d been dealing with.
Gaming glasses help in several ways. First, they use an anti-reflective coating to reduce glare. Second, they apply a tint that filters out some light, reducing harshness. And finally, most brands include a slight magnification which helps the eye focus on small details (similar to reading glasses).
None of this will improve your reflexes or make you smarter, but a pair of gaming glasses can keep your eyes fresh and rejuvenated. A strain-induced headache in a middle of a gaming marathon is sure to destroy both your enjoyment and your kill-death ratio.
A Low-Lag Monitor Or HDTV
Have you recently found yourself plagued by an inexplicable inability to react quickly in games? Do you feel sluggish or dull? Do you seem to lose battles that you felt sure were in your favor? You might just suck – or you might be a victim of input lag.
Input lag is the time required for your controller input to be reflected on your display. Ideally your actions should take place immediately, but digital displays exhibit some lag, and the severity can vary. Some HDTVs take as little as 16 milliseconds to display a change, while others can take over 100. That’s some serious lag, and it can seriously throw off your game.
Technology journalists have only recently started to factor input lag in reviews. This has been helped along by the Bodnar box, a piece of testing equipment that can easily determine input lag. If you’re in a market for a new HDTV or monitor, I suggest you comb the web for reviews that record lag results. Only a small handful, like Anandtech and CNET, take this extra step — but they can save you from buying a display that’s no good for games.
Computer Gaming Keypads
PC gamers have learned to rely on keyboards for most input, but are they really the best option? Probably not. They weren’t built for gaming, after all – and as a result a large number of keys are not within the typical user’s reach.
A gaming keypad replaces your keyboard with a custom key arrangement and other input options, like a D-pad or navigational stick. Popular examples include the Razer Orbweaver, Belkin n52te and Logitech G13. Each offers a slightly different layout, but the idea is the same.
These devices are great in genres that rely heavily on keyboard hotkeys, such as MMORPGs and strategy. Placing the keys in a unique arrangement allows for quicker, easier activation, and some gamers find a keypad more comfortable.
All of these devices can provide a bit of an advantage in-game. Don’t expect to be dominating Starcraft 2 tournaments overnight, but do expect your abilities to be slightly enhanced. These accessories also tend to improve the quality of your gaming experience, which itself can have a positive impact. More fun with less fatigue means more practice, and practice is the only way to become absolutely lethal in your game of choice.