Snacking Near Your Keyboard: A Guide Of What (Not) To Do

By Kotaku on at

By Cecilia D'Anastasio and Mike Fahey

The other day, our intrepid snack and gaming hardware reporter Mike Fahey picked up KFC for lunch. He brought it home and returned to his office, where, at the most recent count, he keeps 11 mechanical keyboards. Collecting them is his new hobby. And he’s taking it very seriously. He refused to eat anything anywhere near his precious keyboard menagerie. He compared it to “storing newborn babies under a diner booth.”
I, Cecilia, told him that’s not relatable. “99% of gamers are more likely to keep a box of crisps by their computers than a bag of moist towelettes,” I responded. As someone who once received a Geek Squad PC diagnostic report calling my keyboard “malodorous,” I am a firm believer in snacking while PC gaming. Sure, I have some regrets. But my desk would feel naked without at least one type of snack or drink on it. Anyway, what am I supposed to do between Overwatch matches?

Fahey and I disagree about whether it is a cardinal sin to snack near your gaming rig. So we have some pretty, um, conflicting advice on how to do it. Our tips on snacking while PC gaming below:

How To Spare Your Keyboard, Which Should Be Nowhere Near Your Snacks, by Mike Fahey

I am the snack guy, but I am also the keyboard guy, and while those two guys don’t always see eye to eye, perhaps they can come together to teach Kotaku’s resident anime expert a thing or two about safe snacking.

Don’t eat anywhere near your keyboard

The easiest way to avoid gunking up your expensive mechanical keyboard with crumbs and drinks and various accumulations of questionable biomatter is to excuse yourself, get up from your chair and wander into another room. The living room is nice. Maybe step outside and have yourself a pasty. Oh, or the bathroom. I know some folks shy away from bathroom eating, but it always seemed so efficient to me, like opening Christmas presents at the dump. Maybe that’s a bad analogy.

Eat near your desk, but not at your desk

Fine, you are hungry, and you can’t step away from World of Warcraft long enough to eat in an area specifically designed for such things. You don’t have to be hunched over your keyboard, crumbling crisps into your maw while exploring Dire Maw. Look to your left. Or maybe your right. If you have space on either side of you, put the food there. Maybe get a tray table from Asda for £10 or something. Or just build a tower of snacks, turning away from your game now and again to sink your face into it. The key to clean keyboard eating is keeping the food away from the keyboard.

Assign yourself a snacky cup

You really can’t just turn to the side? Okay fine. Let’s minimise the damage then. It’s not really the eating over the keyboard that does most of the harm, but the oil and crumbs on your fingertips that do the most damage. Greasy fingers can rub the legends right off of cheaper keycaps, and those tiny crumbs you don’t see might not feel like much, but together in the nooks and crannies of your lovely mechanical marvel they can cause a real problem.

So do this. Go into the kitchen, get a big plastic cup and fill it with crisps or whatever. Look, I don’t know what you eat at your keyboard. I just know that if it goes from cup to mouth, your fingers won’t hurt the keyboard that’s showing them so much love.

Buy a cheap-ass keyboard for when you can’t help yourself

Why do I own so many different mechanical keyboards? Part of it is a healthy obsession. Totally healthy. Such a great obsession you guys. But really, I want to experience all the mechanical keyboard market has to offer, from mass-produced boards with big names to do-it-yourself kits. I want to know the feel of all the switches, from Cherry MX to Topre to buckling spring. I have different keyboards for different moods. No reason I shouldn’t have one more for when I want to slobber KFC all over my desk.

I can buy a keyboard for next to nothing on Amazon and have it here by tomorrow. It probably won’t have fancy N-key rollover or dedicated gaming macro keys. The response times won’t be nearly as fast, but let’s face it, if you’re not focused on the game enough to forego eating until it’s done, then you probably don’t need to worry about the finer details. Just plug in your shit keyboard and dribble some of that Szechaun nugget sauce all over it, Morty.

Seriously though, don’t eat near your keyboard.

You want to eat and game? Go sit on the couch and clog up your Xbox One controller with chip grease. There’s nothing more exciting than picking up a preowned game controller and then spending a half hour digging brown and yellow stuff out of the seams with a paper clip. Much more entertaining than being curled up under your computer desk and crying while cradling a broken £200 keyboard.

Wait a Minute. How To Snack While Also Playing Video Games And Feel Good About It, by Cecilia D’Anastasio

I was legitimately shocked to learn that a lot of people—especially at Kotaku—are offended by the idea of snacking by a computer, which says a lot about the kind of people I hang with. Probably, the naysayers are picturing this:

Or, at worst, this:

Dear readers, it is nothing of the sort. Even I am disgusted a little by this extremely staged and unrealistic snacking experience.

I now understand that some people whisper little keyboard prayers each time the word “dinner” is evoked near a computer. You’re different from me and that’s okay. It’s possible that you spent a lot of money on your keyboard (or eleven keyboards) and its well-being makes you nervous. I will justify my controversial habits by noting that gaming is for fun. As a rule, it’s good to be a chill gamer. Snacks are fun, too, and enhance gaming experiences by keeping you fueled and happy. As long as you insert them directly into your mouth, you should be okay. I promise.

You don’t need to be stressed out by your freetime activity. Eat a cookie. Drink a beer. Let me walk you through acceptable snacking while PC gaming etiquette.

Pick the right snacks

The best strategy is buying snacks you can grab a quick handful of between matches. The snack must not leave residue. It must be structurally sound, dry and not very crumbly. Grease is unacceptable. Mini biscuits, pretzels, popcorn, grapes, coated sweets (i.e. Skittles), select cookies, jerky or dried fruit are all great options. Unless you’re a bad eater, they won’t crumb on your keyboard. Dropping one is not the end of the world. And, with your hands, there’s less risk of doing so.

For snack inspiration, go to a local LAN cafe. Their owners have a vested interest in maintaining their PCs while selling patrons snacks. One I frequent offers M&Ms, Cheez-Its, Swedish Fish, Hot Pockets and things along those lines.

Shun the wrong snacks

Food you eat with a utensils, like leftover Chinese, is a riskier move. On the off chance it drops on your keyboard, you’re in trouble. Food with any sort of flavor dusting, like Cheetos or Doritos or flavored chips, are not a good idea. That stuff accumulates in between and under your keys—especially if your keyboard is mechanical. You would have to get up and wash your hands after each handful to pull that off, or keep hand wipes by your computer, which smell weird and might make your fingers slippery.

Snack placement

The worst thing about the above pictures is not actually my choice or quantity of snacks, but the location of the Cheez-It box. It is on top of my mouse. This, friends, is a PC snacking sin. If you are right-handed, this is where you put your snacks:

Snacks must be accessible for quick bites but far enough away from your mouse that they will not compromise your gaming abilities. Also, pick one snack, not many. I accept your complaint that sweet and savoury snacks are better when alternated, but place them far from your gaming appendages. The disaster situation is your mouse crashing into a bag of Doritos on its way to snipe an enemy.

Keyboard maintenance

The pictured keyboard at my desk is a Corsair mechanical keyboard. It is very nice. Also, it keeps my housemates awake. I live in New York and the walls are thin and I just cannot subject other humans who help me pay rent to my very bad Overwatch habits. I do not use that keyboard anymore. This is my normal setup:

With the crappy keyboard, I’ll wipe it down every once in a while or, maybe, spray canned air into it upside-down. But let’s talk about the mechanical keyboard maintenance, because probably, that’s what you’re here for.

Because mechanical keyboards are very expensive, it’s important to take good care of them. Snack build-up makes the key inputs slower. You know that. Also, it’s gross and could attract pests. Worst-case scenario: You turn your keyboard upside-down and a heavy storm of crumbs comes tumbling out. The issue is that you’re a messy eater. Not that you chose to eat there.

So, to get rid of inevitable dust on top of the keyboard, use a small brush or a can of compressed air. To clean its guts, turn the keyboard over and use that compressed air again onto a table. If you have a small, handheld vacuum with a brush extension, you could run that along the top. Finish with a disinfectant wipe. Let it dry.

I’m not going to tell you to take out all your keys, wash and dry them and put them back. I won’t tell you to kiss each input or sing them lullabies before bed. If that’s a fun thing for you, go ahead and do it. If it’s not, allow me to remind you that games are for fun.

Readers, you’ve seen our advice. Choose wisely about which tips to follow. And let us know where you stand in this debate.