By Eric Fowler  

WASD vs ESDF…is this even an issue? Probably not. But perhaps it should be…

Every PC gamer knows what WASD is; typical first person controls for movement. ESDF on the other hand might take some thinking, but simply put, it is WASD shifted one key to the right.

Soooo…what’s the difference? Glad you asked. Quite a bit, actually.

First of all, some brief history. Why did WASD come about in the first place? Back in the early days of PC gaming, when first person shooters started to emerge, people would play the the arrow keys. Quickly thereafter, mouse-based turning quickly became a standard. This created an uncomfortable problem… using the arrow keys and the mouse at the same time, crammed both of your hands on the right side of your play space. Thus came about the idea of using keys on the left side of the keyboard like arrow keys, thereby making your hands in a more comfortable position. Keys on the left side? Great, WASD is the left-most arrow key looking cluster, we’ll use that. The rest is history… WASD has been the standard ever since.

And it worked fine… until one genre of games made it less than ideal; MMORPGs. In those games, you do something you haven’t had to do before in FPS games… type and chat to your friends, guild, general channel, etc. Not only that, you usually had to do it in the middle of the action, or running from bad guys, or yelling “Train to zone!” (Everquest reference, heh).

For anyone that does correct touch typing, home row keys, all that…. WASD is a nightmare. Your left hand is simply in the wrong position. You would have to shift your hand back and forth between moving and typing, thus comes the dirt simple solution, make your movement keys ESDF. Now, your hands are in the right place, fingers are already sitting right on the home row. You don’t have to move your hands (well, left hand) at all between moving and typing. You slap your hands down naturally on a keyboard, you’re ready to type a novel or circle strafe bad guys.

Then there are the other benefits… you have more keys around your movement fingers for skills and other controls. Hitting numbers 1-6 is now natural typing moves. Shift key is easier to hit, you don’t have your pinkie finger crammed unnaturally in a corner to press it. All these things are huge benefits to MMO players.

In short, ESDF has all of the benefits and more of WASD, with no downsides. I’ve used ESDF since 1994, and in every single game ever released, the first thing I have to do is remap the keys from WASD. Nothing makes me grit my teeth more than seeing keyboards for sale where the WASD keys are in a different color from the rest of the keys.

Now, I realize if you’ve been using WASD for years, you are probably not going to attempt to change that. Muscle memory can be difficult to overcome. But if you are playing MMOs and need to type on the run, you might want to consider trying out ESDF. There are benefits across the board if you can make the switch.