Does anyone else really miss cleaning the gunk out of old mice?

A cross-section of an old computer mouse.
(Image credit: intodune/Getty Images)

Today's mice have little eyeballs that stare unblinkingly at the textures of our grubby mousepads—a tragic life—but the first computer mice were delightfully simple mechanical contraptions. A little ball stuck out from a cage on the underside, and when you rolled it around, it spun two wheels, one to register forward and backward movement and the other left and right. 

The balls were weird: They had the color of an overboiled egg yolk, and were dense, but felt uncannily soft like skin. I always wanted to cut one open, but never did. Turns out at least some of them were steel spheres wrapped in rubber, which explains why they felt like nothing else on earth, and also gave them the ideal heft and texture for rolling up dust and converting it into nasty gunk that was deposited on the rollers, eventually clogging the whole system.

How I miss those weird little balls and those constantly gunked-up rollers, and the degunking ritual that came with them—a great PC gaming tradition lost to technological progress.

As a kid I had a severe dust mite allergy that led to hospital visits and my parents ripping the carpet out of my bedroom, so I ought to feel far more disturbed by the implication of that old ritual: that we're bathing in an atmosphere of dead skin cells and microorganisms that used to accumulate in our mice as horrible gray sludge and now presumably just gets caked into our mouse pads.

Despite the grossness of it, cleaning out those filthy mouse chambers was terribly satisfying. Unlike now, you could understand basically how your mouse worked just by looking at it—the little ball rolls the wheels, some electricity stuff happens, and the cursor moves, duh—and you had some direct control over how well it worked. Having a bad day in Quake 2? Just check how much horrible dead skin putty and golden retriever hair is in your mouse, maybe that's the problem. 

It's much harder to blame my aim on the pristine 20,000 DPI sensor in my mouse today. You can't open it, and it would be pointless to. The most you can do is wipe it off, but I've never needed to.

(Image credit: Roberto/Getty Images)

Maybe what I'm pining for doesn't have to do with mice specifically. I also like freeing vacuum cleaner rollers from the bonds of accumulated hair strands, and removing all the keys from my keyboard to swab its crevasses with rubbing alcohol. Maybe it's just human nature to enjoy degunking moving parts, the effect of some mechanical engineering gene that rewards getting gears spinning and actuators actuating. 

The more the objects around me become un-openable and arcane—how do you degunk a spotty Bluetooth connection?—the more I seem to admire simple, mechanical things. Maybe that's why I spent so much time thinking about what kind of fans I wanted in my PC (I went with a Noctua CPU cooler whose look I'd describe as "Windows 95 hot rod") and came to care so much about mechanical keyboard switches.

I just miss moving parts, and the gross but intuitively solvable problems they come with.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.