There’s a small subset of the modern gaming community that would have you believe that no matter how many games you play, no matter how much you love the industry, you’re not a “real” gamer unless you’re gaming on expensive, gamer-specific equipment. Of course, these ostentatious “gamer” accessories — keyboards, mice, headsets, etc. — are cool to have if that’s your thing, but gaming peripherals have been around since even before the Power Glove and the SEGA Mega Drive Arcade Power Stick. Here’s just a small selection of our favourites over the years, and exactly why we loved them so much.
Ben: Custom mechanical keyboards
There are so many people ready to sink thousands of dollars into a gaming PC who then turn around and pick up some garbage hunk of plastic keyboard to play their games on. At worst, they’re getting mushy, unresponsive membrane keyboards; at worst but in a different way, an overpriced “gamer” product that, sure, might have a mechanical switch, but has a cheap plastic case and sounds like teeth grinding.
I’m here to report that you can build these things yourself, people, and it’s not hard, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can choose a size you like, because maybe you don’t actually use the numpad much, so you don’t need it taking up extra space; you can choose a material you like, because it doesn’t have to be plastic; and you can even choose switches that suit you — linear, tactile and clicky are categories with infinite variations, not the only three options as Logitech would have you believe. Some people love the incredibly light touch of Cherry Speed Silvers. I’m into the soft, buttery feeling of Alpacas, but I have some intensely loud and clicky Box Navies on my function row for a little extra something something. You can even choose your own keycaps, because there are colours other than black! You can go for the aesthetic (there are some really beautiful colour palettes out there, especially from small batch manufacturer GMK), or for the sculpt, choosing a shape that suits your fingers.
You can start finding your way around something custom for the same price as a sloppy pre-made… or you can spend endless money on niche one-off limited production runs. People have been arguing about controller preference since the dawn of time — why settle for a run of the mill keyboard, PC gamers?
Ed: The GameCube Controller Adaptor
Hear me out on this. Taken at face value, yes, the GameCube controller adaptor is just a glorified dongle, but there’s no other accessory out there that allows you and your mates to link up your old and dusty GameCube controllers to the Wii U or Switch for a round of Smash… and trust me, having befriended people who are very, very good at Smash (particularly Melee), there’s no controller that is quite up to par to the GameCube one.
The adaptor also ensures that I didn’t have to invest a whole lot of money into buying multiple Joy-Cons or Pro Controllers. Having the adaptor and some GameCube controllers at hand for when friends used to visit ensured that we never had to worry about having enough controllers for Mario Kart or for the insanity that is 8-player Smash.
As for the PC users who happen to not have a Wii U (because I’m one of the handful of people who still do) or a Switch: don’t worry — the adaptor works with Windows just the same, and if you are able to connect your GameCube controller to your computer, there is probably a way you can make it run something like Sunshine too…
Jake: My iPad Pro
The iPad Pro has essentially been an extension of myself since I got my hands on it almost five years ago — it’s served as my laptop since Doublejump v1.0’s lofty demands cooked my seven-year-old, still-running-like-brand-new MacBook Pro’s battery, it enabled me to have a small income stream when I was on holiday in the USA, it’s been a vessel through which I was able to experience one of my favourite games of all time (rest in peace, Vainglory) and it’s helped me learn a lot about how I like to work. Of course, none of that changes the fact that the iPad Pro is not a gaming accessory, nor is it a gaming peripheral… at least, not in the traditional sense of the word.
I really don’t think there’s a person, group of people or even a supercomputer in existence that could count the number of times I’ve used my iPad Pro, hooked up to a wireless keyboard, while I’ve been playing games. Being an obsessive FIFA Ultimate Team player, I’ve predominantly used it to research card prices when I’ve opened packs, squad prices when I’ve come up with a new concept, or solutions when I’m working on a Squad Building Challenge (at least for me, on the console is still the best way to actually do those), and even to send messages and let people know I’m happy to help them with objectives; I’ve also used it more recently to quickly research builds for the couple of League of Legends games I play now and then, and as an extra screen when I’ve been working hard on Doublejump. More than anything, though, it just fits so seamlessly into the hybrid workspace/battlestation I’ve created for myself, so I’m always finding new uses for it while I’m playing games… and using it to play games when I should be working.
John: Guitar Hero’s Guitar Grip for the Nintendo DS
Look at that adorable fella. It’s like a Guitar Hero controller landed in the middle of a Fisher Price conveyor belt — how could you not love it?
The Guitar Grip was an attachment included with copies of Guitar Hero On Tour for the Nintendo DS. You slam it into the GameBoy Advance slot at the bottom of the console like a kid in a Mega Drive commercial and hold the entire thing sideways in one hand, with a velcro strap securing it to your palm. With your other hand, you use the also-included guitar pick stylus to strum the right touch screen while you hold the buttons of the grip in time with the coloured notes scrolling down on the left screen. It’s Guitar Hero in the shape of a paperback.
It was simpler, too. Compared to the usual five fret buttons on the usual Guitar Hero controllers, the Guitar Grip only had four. Instead of having to jump your four fingers across five buttons during every song, each finger had a button of its own. While this was definitely the only choice available since the DS was so small, it was perfect for a portable take on the series. The Guitar Grip meant still having the tactile button clacks that made Guitar Hero fun in the first place, while the game itself was cleverly slimmed down and streamlined for a more comfortable “song-at-a-time” experience.
P.S. As I found out while writing this, the Guitar Grip hurts like hell to play without tiny kid hands. Still fun, though.
Liam: The Guitar Hero controller
It’s a well-known fact that guitars are rad. From the shredding sounds of an electric Fender to the summer songs of an acoustic, guitars are responsible for many of music’s most famous melodies. A tell-tale sign of a rockstar, it’s a shame we all can’t shred a six-string like Slash, but there’s another way.
Guitar Hero’s guitar is undeniably a gimmick controller, but it’s the best one. With 25 million units moved and $2 billion made, the franchise owes its success to its alluring axe. The O.G guitar controller trades strings and frets for a strumming bar and five coloured buttons. Just choose a song, and watch coloured dots scroll down the screen like the start of a Star Wars film. When dots hit their mark, players strum while holding the corresponding button. It’s a slick way to make the rhythm game immersive, but simple enough for the average player.
The guitar is so important that it’s usually not optional. If you do find an entry that lets you use another controller, you’ll be stuck with an aggressively awkward layout. The Xbox 360 has all the colours bound to the shoulder buttons, except for orange on A. Add the strumming bar to the analogue stick and it all becomes clear: this is no way to play the game and you need to do yourself a favour and get the guitar. There’s no better way to feel like a rockstar… Unless you can, you know, actually play.
Lucas Gogos: RGB lighting, because someone had to
Everyone loves a splash of colour, and RGB lighting is the quintessential way to get that into your gaming setup. It took the world by storm when companies started releasing simple LED light strips that you could add to your computer, furniture or room, but it became synonymous with video gaming when companies like Razer started incorporating it into keyboards, mice, headset stands and even chairs. Now, it’s everywhere, and basically any company that makes anything remotely related to entertainment has harnessed the RGB factor in some way, shape or form.
Honestly, although it’s a bit of a meme, I love RGB lighting; it adds a level of customisation and personality to your equipment, and it can make a bland room come alive. Yes, adding RGB to your peripherals or buying a light strip or two for your room does add to the whole thing’s cost, but the possibilities are absolutely endless: you can use RGB strips — or even RGB peripherals — to turn your room into a disco floor, or even a responsive pseudo-equaliser that flashes colours or patterns based on the song you’re listening to, or you can just use them to have a light that you can customise without having to change light bulbs. All this, and they’re just lights… cheaper lights than the colour-changing bulbs you can get nowadays!
Matt: The DUALSHOCK 4 Back Button Attachment
This generation of consoles has most definitely brought with it a fair share of accessories, third party controllers and peripherals, but none have proven as elusive or interesting as the DUALSHOCK 4 Back Button Attachment. This accessory augments your DualShock 4 with two new interchangeable inputs that sit behind the controller’s grips. Simply plug it into the 3.5mm audio jack under the controller, and you’re good to go. Top it all off with a gorgeous OLED screen that sits in between each button, and you’ve got yourself one incredibly similar alternative to a SCUF or pro controller.
Each back button comes with a choice of 16 input options, each of which can be changed and mapped through the OLED screen — you can change and confirm those settings on the go with the touch of a button. Admittedly, it’s not a necessary tool to add to your gaming arsenal, but when playing specific games such as shooters which require precise reflexes, having an additional button down there feels way more natural than you would think.
The only downside of this accessory is that it’s incredibly hard to come by; Sony only produced minimal units at launch, and discontinued it soon after, making them ridiculously expensive in today’s market. With a new PlayStation controller on the horizon, this attachment is going to fade out as people move up to the next generation; it’s just a shame that more of us didn’t get to enjoy it.
Max: Mice with side buttons
My life has never been the same after encountering the “mouse with side button” niche of tech products. Whether it be an MMO, MOBA, action RPG or just any old game that involves using the numpad, numbers or anything that isn’t WASD, these mice have changed my life.
Everything is just so much easier without having to reach up the keyboard or across it to hit those numbers, especially when playing twitchy fast-paced games like DOTA 2 or Overwatch. It’s not even limited to glitzy RGB MMO mice with a hundred buttons and a cup holder, either — you can get mice with only a single button, or three, or with interchangeable panels to change between all the aforementioned. When so many games emphasize precision, and the humble mouse is king when it comes to precision, being able to coordinate your button presses on the same hand just feels so natural.
The side button’s application is not limited to keyboard-smashing MMO’s either, even conventional action titles like Control, with a focus on coordinated 3D movement through WASD and some levitation had me hankering for a more efficient way to dash or shield than taking my fingers off the WASD keys and wasting precious action efficiency. With my Razer Naga Pro I don’t have to, preserving my glorious APM both in and out of competitive video games with its three interchangeable magnetic side panels allowing me to choose between two, six and a mighty twelve buttons. It’s no Logitech, but it gets the job done and well.
I would never play a game with multiple buttons (besides WASD) to press on Mouse and Keyboard without one of these bad boys, and I’d implore you to give it a go too. It might just blow your mind.
Tom: Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2
In appreciation of what I assume will be the longest title for a peripheral — Microsoft really needs to calm down with the lengthy names — and in perhaps the most indulgent selection on this list, here’s a hefty beast of a controller. The (deep breath) Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2 is an excellent bit of hardware that really develops what was a solid concept in the Series 1 controller.
The additional paddle inputs, completely mappable button layouts (including screenshot, recording and Xbox Dashboard interfaces) and the fashionably late Bluetooth functionality allow for an incredibly personalised game experience not only on your console but when you’re streaming on mobile or PC. The controller is actually quite heavy compared to a standard controller or the Series 1, but it comes to grow on you; the metal features’ satisfying weight and clickiness have given me a new understanding of those mechanical keyboard lovers out there.
As much as I am married to my (deep breath) Xbox Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, it is an incredibly optional piece of hardware that hurts the bank more than it radically alters gameplay. I can say I have made some sweatier plays in Destiny’s Crucible being able to jump, look and shoot simultaneously, but it’s a minimal improvement and I’m still very, very capable of getting stomped. Perhaps the most underrated of this controller’s features, though, is simply being able to join the PS4 and the Switch in being able to take screenshots and record clips so much more easily. Acquiring resources for reviews, features or just a general media archive is so much more accessible with this controller — which leaves me wondering why Microsoft hasn’t made it standard on its basic controllers.
Truthfully, every platform throughout gaming history has had an accessory or two, and people have found ways to use just about anything as a gaming accessory. Jump into the comments section below, or on our social media, and let us know what your favourite peripheral has been!
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Also published on Medium.