• I'm a librarian on Second Life, a librarian on reference chat, a librarian on Facebook, a librarian on Twitter, and even a librarian on World of Warcraft! And yes, I am a librarian in real life! (that last one is easy to forget sometimes) :)
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    Wasd up?

    Let me tell you about a little friend of mine. It’s one of those little tricks that are known and loved by computer gamers, but often not familiar to librarians. I am of course, referring to the W, the A, the S, and the D key on your computer keyboard. Familiarize yourself with these keys, become their best friend, and they will serve you well.


    In many virtual environments, you are given control of a 3 dimensional avatar. You are usually viewing this character from a 3rd person perspective, effectively “driving” them through the virtual world. Many people control their on-screen persona using the arrow keys on their computer keyboard, and that’s fine, really. But gamers (hereafter called “gamerz” to reflect their awesomeness) are different. In many computer games, played on a desktop, the w, a, s, and d keys default to a kind of multi-directional set of arrow keys. Take a moment to look at those keys:

    You’ll notice that these keys are positioned in a configuration not unlike that of the arrow keys on your keyboard. Oh sure, the w key is slightly off-center on a real keyboard, but we can forgive that. The reason that many gamerz use the WASD key configuration is because it allows one to use the mouse with the right hand, and control the movement of their character with the left hand. When you use the arrow keys, it forces you to shift your hands all the way to the right for mouse control as well as movement. This can be very uncomfortable, and far from ergonomic.

    Whenever I get on to a computer, my first instinct is to rest my fingers comfortably on these keys. This can be a problem when the virtual environment does not allow for this configuration. For example, the multi-player online game City of Heroes uses the QWES keys for character movement, which is just as ergonomically comfortable, but slightly disorienting. And then there’s the little matter of “strafing”.

    Strafing is a type of motion in which you move your character from side to side while still facing forward. It is very helpful in battle simulations, where your character is forced to sidestep it down a back alley in a warzone while still facing the line of fire. Allow me to demonstrate in Second Life:

    Tipping my hat, I begin stepping to the right, as the sign indicates. Notice that I am still facing in the direction of the sign as I do this. Had there been a group of enemy stormtroopers hiding behind the giant “Strafe Right” sign, I’d have been able to see them and react accordingly. By the time I get to the giant “Pivot Left” sign, I am more comfortable turning my body in the direction of movement and walking forward. Watch me try strafing again, just to make sure that no one else is hiding behind the sign.

    In Second Life, shifting between “Strafe” and “Pivot” is simple enough. You merely hold down the shift key to strafe rather than pivot. But in many of the new browser-embedded virtual worlds such as Vivaty and Just Leap In, the manner of your movement is dependent on which keys you use to move. Using your friends, the WASD keys, your online avatar will “strafe” left and right. It is the same in both of these environments. But when you use the arrow keys, you simply pivot in place, as you would in Second Life or World of Warcraft. (I can’t for the life of me remember how to strafe in WoW, is it shift-move, as in SL?) So in Vivaty and Just Leap In, I find it easier to just shove my keyboard all the way to the left, and use the arrow keys. Fortunately, both of these worlds are still in Beta testing, so I have hardly anyone to chat with just yet. 🙂

    One of the main difficulties that people have with immersing themselves in virtual environments is the dreaded “learning curve”. For those of you who aren’t gamerz, it can be very difficult to acclimate yourself to movement in a virtual world. Many people who actually spent the days of their youth doing things like dating and hanging out with friends are just unfamiliar with the finer points of gaming. But if you familiarize yourself with the myriad of ways of moving around in a virtual environment, you too can impress your colleagues when you dance rings around them at the next virtual conference, while they’re still avoiding walls and sharp corners.

    Just don’t try to impress your teenagers in a game of Halo 2 on Xbox Live. Those gamerz are too l33t for you!


    2 Responses

    1. Cr*p, I’m left handed – does this mean that I’m not a gamer? lol

      “The reason that many gamerz use the WASD key configuration is because it allows one to use the mouse with the right hand”

      In Second Life, I’m a huge fan of the arrow keys (obviously), ’cause this leaves my left hand free to conduct the rest of the operations I need to do…

      G8t post! U R awezome!

    2. I’m pretty sure that you can be a gamer and still be left handed. Although it loses something when you’re fighting in the arena and try to do an inversion of the famous Inigo Montoya “I am not left-handed!” trick. Your opponents on the field of battle might not be quite as impressed. 😛

      But at least you can use the arrow keys without difficulty! 😀

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