Last week, I tossed a comment about my pinky into the technicalrobo Slack channel, and it was like I’d just walked into a room and mispronounced the word bagel. I’d said something so immediately, obviously wrong to everyone but me that the five dudes and one woman up in orbit right now probably felt the shockwave of wrong reverberate through the International Space Station. Somehow there were no casualties, except my innocence.
Until 5:34 pm, I’d assumed I play PC games like a Totally Normal Person.
(opens in new tab)
I do not.
Okay, so, look. Here’s the thing. Like most kids who grew up in the ’90s, I mainly learned to type on PCs and Macs in keyboarding class, and to this day I’m a home row typist. Around the same time I was learning to type, most games still defaulted to the arrow keys for movement. I definitely played Wolfenstein 3D with the arrow keys, and rarely played other PC shooters until years later. I was too busy with Command & Conquer and Warcraft.
So whenever I got back around to games with WASD (opens in new tab) controls—it might’ve been Halo: Combat Evolved around 2004—I did what my brain considered natural. I kept my fingers on the home row, and moved my ring finger from S up to W to walk forward and backward. This seemed perfectly normal. But, um.
(opens in new tab)
Here’s how I play PC games, which was quickly coined The Wes Maneuver:
- A: Pinky
- W/S: Ring finger
- D: Middle finger
- R/F/C/etc.: Index finger
I hope this revelation hasn’t caused you physical or mental pain. Honestly, I’m still reeling. Not at the thought of doing it wrong, because the great thing about PC gaming is we can customize our games however we want. If you prefer to move with ESDF, that’s perfectly fine! But it did not even occur to me, until last Wednesday at 5:34 pm, that anyone else would press the WASD keys differently. Then everyone started typing at once.
My pinky goes where?
If you’d asked me to guess how most people positioned their fingers on WASD, I’d have be totally stumped. What else would even feel natural? My way is so obvious. As the rest of the team reacted to my heretical fingering, I had to Google around for what I was missing and found tons of photos like this (opens in new tab). The pinky lives on Shift???
I tried to contort my hand into this position. At first it felt freakish. I was tenting my fingers to stand on A, W, and D, but my brain still insisted the pinky belonged on A, too. I had to shove it to the side like a dead limb. After a few tries, I realized the natural orientation was simply shifting over to the left, and resting on A/S/D. The middle finger moves up to press W when needed. That still feels like madness to my 15 years of muscle memory, but I’ll admit resting my pinky on Shift does feel pretty great. It’s like a vacation: my pinky gets to sprawl out on a spacious, less-used key, and isn’t responsible for strafing at pivotal moments. It’s a lot of pressure, moving left.
No one on staff could remember how they learned to position their fingers for WASD, but the general consensus seemed to be that the pinky is weak and unfit for the responsibility of an important movement key. Better to trust it with lower-frequency actions like sprinting and crouching, they said. Also, I finally understand why most people find Ctrl to crouch much more convenient than I do.
But this is the part that just boggles my mind: how did this position make its way into the collective unconscious of PC gaming?
(opens in new tab)
Evan conjured up the best theory: the typical WASD positioning actually carries over from using the arrow keys from back in the Wolf 3D days. If you used your right hand on the arrow keys, you almost certainly had your index finger on Left, middle on Down, and ring on Right. No pinky. And if you used your left hand, the pinky could reach out and press right Ctrl. This makes a whole lot of sense. And in original Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, Ctrl was the default Fire key.
I’m going to say “I didn’t play enough Doom” is as good an explanation as I’m ever going to get. It’s true: I didn’t play Doom back when it came out. Then again, plenty of people who did play Doom went on to play tons of Quake and other first-person games like System Shock, which often had radically varying control schemes, and they mostly still migrated to the “proper” WASD. To make myself feel better about my apparently weird way of WASDing, I turned to someone I knew would have my back: former technicalrobo managing editor Chris Comiskey.
If I’m a mere heretic, Chris is the Archangel of Chaotic PC Control Schemes. Here’s what he had to say:
“WASD? Vanilla, boring, and conformist. Behold my ultimate control scheme, picked up in Duke Nukem 3D, the best game ever made with the word Nukem in it: right mouse button to go forward (naturally), pinky on Left Ctrl, thumb on Left Alt and Spacebar, ring finger on Shift, middle finger on A and W, index finger working W, Z, S, X, and occasionally, the almighty C. And you better believe that my mouse is inverted. This is how I rock my PC games, and I always have. Your way is wrong and stupid. Mine is the best.”
(opens in new tab)
Honestly? Ctrl/Shift/A/S is pretty comfortable. I don’t think I could ever get used to walking forward with a mouse button, but I dig the rest of it. As Chris says, PC gaming is all about bending the platform to your preferences. “Choice in graphics, choice in mods, choice in hardware. It’s no different with controls. If I have the sudden urge to use Scroll Lock as jump and F8 as strafe left, well, that’s my business, dammit.”
Embrace your strange control schemes, PC gamers. If you’re young, try not to totally mangle your hand using the default keybindings for Fortnite (opens in new tab). It’s okay to rebind. And if you see someone out there using their pinky on A, ease them into the wider world of WASDing gently.