No, the device that lets you use keyboard and mouse on consoles isn't cheating

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is right around the corner. And with its impending release, gamers ™ are already looking for ways to get ahead in its surely intense competitive multiplayer community. And, as there’s always two sides to this coin, there are those who are imagining ways those players will cheat—before the game even hits shelves.

One such controversy surrounds the Keymander, a console gaming peripheral that allows you to use a keyboard and mouse to play any console game, complete with totally reprogrammable control mapping and old-school turbo mode. 

The Keymander has been around for a long time. The company that makes this little hunk of metal and wires, IOGEAR, was founded in 1999. That being said, this is nothing new, but with a very in-demand game being so close to release, and the fact that some players will surely take advantage of this product within that game, gamers are once again talking about it.

With the debate freshly sparked and blood pressures on the rise, we dove into the various comments in online forums and even professional (eh) articles condemning the use of such a device. Some people claim that it ruins the integrity of crossplay gaming, which is when a game allows players from several platforms (PC, Xbox, PS4, mobile, etc) to play together. And others have even gone so far as to say that the device should be made illegal, which was a surprisingly popular comment on the site it was posted.

The Keymander has been available for years, but I never tried it out myself. And to truly experience this debate, and to understand all its facets, the first thing I needed to do was hook one up to the office Xbox One and try it for myself. It’s not terribly expensive, sitting just below $100 right now, so if you want to try it out yourself, it’s fairly accessible.

After configuring its many settings (which takes quite a long time to do), I was happy with the arrangement, and I started playing some games. For context, I have robust experience playing first-person shooters (FPS) on both console and PC. We’re talking thousands of hours sprawled across various titles, from Rainbow Six Siege to Call of Duty to Counter-Strike. I figured I would be the perfect candidate to get the most out of the Keymander with all of that experience. With these comments and articles all floating around the ether warning that the Keymander provides a player with so much of an advantage that it should be illegal (like, against the actual law), I figured I’d immediately start crushing everyone. 

We’re going to jump into the most popular opinions out there that condemn the Keymander, but before you read on, know this. I tried it, I’m a very experienced gamer ™, and it did not give me nearly as much of an advantage as people may claim. But more on that later. Let’s get into the first claim.

Claim 1: The Keymander ruins crossplay

We’re starting with this one because it was the title of an article that spread like wildfire throughout the FPS community. I find it particularly disturbing that an actual article was titled this, because, frankly, it makes extremely little sense. And if you get the sense that I’m just going to be making fun of these claims, let me just stop you right there. I’ll make fun of the ones that deserve it, and I’ll give credit to the ones that don’t. This one, though, it deserves it.

Crossplay is the ability to play alongside people on other platforms. So, if you’re on a console, like the Xbox One X, you can be pitted against people on a PC using a mouse and keyboard. In other words, you’ll already be pitted against people using a mouse and keyboard, so why would a device that allows a player to use a mouse and keyboard ruin the integrity of the game? 

Answer: It wouldn’t because that makes no sense. That makes no sense at all, not even a little. And in Fortnite’s case, where you can be pitted against people on a mobile device while you’re on PC, there’s no arguing that those on mobile are at a disadvantage, and no amount of aim assist would negate that fact.

Claim 2: Better hardware gives you a distinguishable advantage in PC gaming. In other words, every multiplayer game is Pay-2-Win.

This one is less ridiculous, because, while exaggerated, it is at least partially true, even if only by a little bit. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still a tad ridiculous, though, because it is.

Yes, having better hardware allows your computer to run games more smoothly. That’s hands-down a fact, and I’ll give it to them there. But the real argument isn’t that it helps run a game better, it’s that it gives you a competitive advantage, which is less true. Yes, better frames-per-second can shave a fraction of a second off of your input time, and yes, running a high-speed monitor can do the same. But those microscopic advantages will only matter to someone at the very pinnacle of the competition, the top of the ladder. To the other 99 percent of players, those tiny little improvements won’t make a difference. 

So while there is technically an improvement in performance if you have better hardware, the likelihood of that actually affecting your gameplay is small. The correlation between the Keymander and this argument is a stretch at best. Essentially, this point was brought up to say that PC gamers can “cheat” by upgrading their hardware, and this is essentially the same thing, but for consoles.

Claim 3: You pay a “premium price” to game on consoles, and that premium guarantees you balanced, exploit-free competition

This one’s messy. The argument that console gaming is considered “premium” compared to PC gaming is one of the flimsiest claims I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading. The person who typed out this horrible hill to die on believes that the monthly subscription you pay to use Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network means that they’ve acquired premium gaming services, not like the lowly masses on PC who can't afford it.

Let’s break down that argument. A console, even the most high-end version you can buy, will never cross the $500 threshold. To build a PC that can handle today’s most popular games, however, will run you over $1000. The monthly or semi-annual fee you pay to use a console’s online gaming platform won’t even break even on that for several years, and by then, a new console will be out. I game on a console, I’ve had my PS4 since launch day and I love the games I play on it, but I’m not going to pretend that I’m entitled to some premium experience because of that fact.

The other half of the argument is that this monthly fee guarantees an exploit-free experience. That’s a big no, too. There has always been, and there will always be, modders, hackers, and everything in between. They’ll always be around for PC players, and they’ll always be around for console players, and that’s not even getting into the debate about whether or not the Keymander can be considered cheating or an exploit, but we’ll get into that later.

Claim 4: Keymander allows you to play with keyboard and mouse on games that don’t support it, and that’s a big advantage

Half of this argument is objectively true, and I know this because we tested it out. Yes, the Keymander does allow you to plug a keyboard and mouse into any game on a console, even those that don’t support the use of a keyboard and mouse. It takes a very long time to set up, and there’s a lot of trial and error to sift through before landing on sensitivity levels that aren’t completely unplayable, but yes, it does work.

But is that an actual advantage? This is where things get hazy because it’s completely going to depend on who you are and how much experience using a keyboard/mouse combo in competitive gaming you have. There are other factors, too. As someone who has a considerable amount of years gaming on both console and PC, and in playing first-person shooters specifically, I was able to arrive at a conclusion. 

This is only an advantage if the game you’re playing does not have aim assist. Why? Because if you’re a seasoned controller-user, you know how to line your reticle up on a body to trigger the aim assist, and you’re damn good at it. The only real advantage a keyboard/mouse combo offers is the ability to click heads easier, and with aim assist, every time you get near a body, your reticle is going to shift to their upper torso whether you like it or not, rendering your advantage useless. If the game doesn’t have aim assist, however, yeah, you’re definitely at an advantage, but not much of one. Most console games in today’s age do include aim assist, and most times, you can’t turn it off.

There’s another very big factor to consider, though, that most people complaining about the Keymander don’t really seem to understand. You’ll only really even notice this or have ever experienced it if you’ve played on both console and PC. Playing a game on console, any game on any console, always includes a certain amount of input lag. That is, the delay between when you hit a button and your character actually doing the thing on-screen. If you’ve played on console your whole life, there’s a very good chance you didn’t know that, but if you’ve played on PC, the second you switch to console you’re made painfully aware that this input lag is definitely more potent. 

That input lag exists on console all the time, even if you’re using a Keymander, and having to attempt to precisely aim with your mouse while combating this level of input lag is very disorienting and, quite frankly, not worth the effort. So while yes, you may have an advantage in a non-aim-assist game with a Keymander, that advantage may be nullified by also having to compensate for increased input lag.

Claim 5: Console multiplayer is “for casuals”

Ironically, this claim was made by the same article that claimed console gaming was “premium,” so take that as you will. That site’s recommended “related article” on the sidebar was this, too, just in case that informs your opinion at all.

Regardless, let’s digest this together, shall we? Many people actually share this mindset, that console gaming is to be taken less seriously than PC, especially by the “PC Master Race” crowd (all hail Gaben). But, as the rest of us know, that’s not true at all.

Almost all competitive fighting games, for example, are at home on consoles rather than PCs. And obviously, there are several competitive leagues out there for sports games, and even some shooters. The “console is casual” argument is a very old one, and it’s been disproven time and time again. It’s not worth getting into past that.

Claim 6: KB/Mouse allows players to react “10 times faster” than if they were on controller

OOF. Big oof. Catastrophically monumental oof. This is, hands down, the most ridiculous statement we’ve seen within the Keymander debate so far. First of all, without even getting into why this is utterly ridiculous yet, where are you pulling “10 times faster” from? Do you have data on that, or are you throwing around big dramatic numbers for shock value? I bet I know the answer to that. There is no data, obviously, that supports any claim that essentially says a piece of peripheral hardware will improve your human reaction time on any level, let alone tenfold. There is no data on it because it’s not true.

Having a controller in no way, shape, or form, diminished your reaction time. The only thing that could possibly even affect it is that input lag we mentioned above, and, once again, that input lag is still very much present even if you use a keyboard and mouse with the Keymander. In other words, the only thing that might have saved this argument even a little bit can be thrown out the window, too. 

If you ever hear anyone say the words “using a keyboard/mouse/headset/anything improves your reaction time,” find the nearest table and flip it over. It makes no sense, and it won’t until some genius inventor in the future can make a keyboard that can alter your physiology and/or brain’s performance. By then, we probably won’t even be using keyboards anymore, either.

Claim 7: All players who use a Keymander are cheaters

This is the real argument. It’s the substance to the debate itself, as all of those other arguments and claims boil down to one statement: The Keymander is just another way to cheat. Bringing up performance-enhancing keyboards, “premium gaming,” and superior aiming is all just a way to support the argument that using a Keymander is cheating. And from what we can tell, having dismantled at least most of those supporting arguments, we can say that no, the Keymander is not a cheat. 

That’s the subjective answer, anyway, as many of those claims are ridiculous and make little sense to me. I don’t really see any unfair advantage to using it, and I wouldn’t call it a cheat. 

Just because I personally don’t believe the Keymander is a cheat, that doesn’t mean that’s the objective truth, however. That’s the thing about opinions. Another article from 2014, for example, showcases the opinion that it is, in fact, cheating. To find somewhat of an objective truth, we have to identify an authority on the matter. In our case, the authority is the fine print. Let me turn your attention to the Microsoft Services Agreement, which covers Microsoft gaming hardware, such as the Xbox One X.

“For any device that can connect to Xbox Services, we automatically check your device for unauthorized hardware or software that enables cheating or tampering in violation of the Code of Conduct or these Terms, and download Xbox app software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the Xbox Services, or from using unauthorized hardware or software that enables cheating or tampering.”

In other words, for all of those arguing that the Keymander “isn’t detected by the Xbox,” it’s not that people using a Keymander have managed to fool Microsoft with a small piece of third-party hardware that’s been available for literal years. It “isn’t detected” because Xbox’s automatic scans explicitly don’t define it as cheating, so that’s obviously Microsoft’s stance on it. But what about Sony? Here’s a snippet from the Playstation Terms of Service and User Agreement.

“You may not use, make, or distribute unauthorized software or hardware, including Non-Licensed Peripherals and cheat code software or devices that circumvent any security features or limitations included on any software or devices, in conjunction with PSN Services, or take or use any data from PSN Services to design, develop or update unauthorized software or hardware.”

It then goes onto say, “We are not responsible for monitoring or recording any activity on PSN Services, including communications, although we reserve the right to do so.”

So that may sound confusing, but if you read between the lines a bit, it appears that on the Playstation, the Keymander is considered cheating by Sony itself. Why? Here’s the line you need to look at: 

“...devices that circumvent any security features or limitations included on any software or devices.”

If a game doesn’t support keyboard and mouse, that’s a limitation placed upon hardware by the game, and the Keymander allows you to bypass that limitation, therefore being, objectively, a piece of cheating hardware by Sony’s definition. That being said, though, the keyboard/mouse combo is much more accessible and supported on PS4 than it is on Xbox, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find a game where the Keymander would actually be useful to begin with.

So is using the Keymander cheating? The answer is muddy. To me and Microsoft, no. To Sony, however, it is. Your own personal stance may be somewhere in between.