Keyboard, Mouse, and “Jaedong’s Hands”

“Besides manual dexterity,” McCullough writes of becoming skilled on a computer, “you may feel some intellectual agility. You will learn to build mental models, and to switch frames of reference when necessary. You alertly monitor feedback from a variety of sources, and recognize and recover from errors before they compound themselves” (McCullough 26). In “Abstracting Craft,” McCullough identifies a problem of definition: to what extent can one consider “working on a computer,” or, better, “making work on a computer,” a kind of craft? The chapter concludes by suggesting that even though computation began as a discipline (seemingly) divorced from the hands, much of modern computer labor demands and fosters skills related to both physical dexterity and mental alacrity. The keyboard-mouse interface, often touted as less “natural” than other potential user interfaces like touchscreens (forgetting that there is no “natural” HCI, but only “naturalized” HCIs), can be mastered in such a way as to elevate the computer user to extraordinary levels of prestige and admiration.

Among the most extraordinary examples of wage-earning computer laborers who depend on mouse-keyboard dexterity are competitive gamers. “Jaedong,” a professional South Korean gamer who makes his living playing the game Starcraft (which conveniently has “craft” in its name), is featured in a YouTube video entitled: “Jaedong’s Hands,” which boasts around half a million views and a 96% “like” ratio (demonstrating the affinity its viewers feel for its subject). The camera hovers on the gamer’s hands as he plays the game, never drifting up to show either the game or the gamer’s face, reveling in his speed and coordination. The meaning of the video is clear: it is an homage to something happening; a culmination of years of rigorous training that manifests itself in a series of clicks and taps that register as entirely illegible when separated from the context of the game. Most of his clicks are the result of a kind of distal memory, where the fingers seem to act of their own accord.

But what is being created when Jaedong plays Starcraft? Is it a performance piece? An athletic event? (Are athletic events craft?) Is it merely media content? Do two players play to yield a culminating image of victory and defeat, like a picture of a Go board after a difficult game?

Finally, there seems to be a medium-specific relationship in gaming between “skill-based games” and “casual games,” where each successive move from keyboard-mouse to game controller, from game controller to touch screen, from touch screen to VR, yield lower and lower skill ceilings and potentials for at least one kind of mastery—the kind demonstrated by professional gamers. How will the most “skilled” VR pioneer behave? What will their movements look like? Is “richness” lost in the move to more “natural” methods of interacting with computers?