How I Transformed My iPad Into the PC Gaming Device of My Dreams

Play ‘Doom Eternal’ on your iPad and forget all about the real hell that awaits you outside

Playing a video game on an iPad with keyboard.
Photos courtesy of the author.

When the coronavirus started to spread, I bought two things for which I should never escape ridicule: nine packages of Dude Wipes — 432 wipes in all, out of concern that I might never see toilet paper again — and a prebuilt Hewlett-Packard gaming PC.

I didn’t need the computer, but I wanted it. It was a way to create an escape pod for myself: With the world shutting down, I could hide away with my machine and its imaginary places. Doom Eternal, a relentless shooter partially set on an Earth ruined by demonic invaders, was an early favorite.

One year later, we are out of wipes, but the PC is going strong. It also faces stiff competition in the living room. Our TV is often ceded instead to the Real Housewives franchise — if Doom deserves a 4K screen, you better believe Erika Jayne does, too — and I often spend my evenings brainlessly prodding at a mobile device while the drama unfolds. Inevitably I find myself on Twitter, Insta, or TikTok, which divert my attention with no hope for resolution. The feeds simply go on and on.

I needed a way to game on my PC without monopolizing the TV.

Sometimes you need to submerge yourself in those numbing algos, but when you’re feeling slightly sharper, video games can be superior pandemic entertainment. They offer progression. You complete stages, your character levels up, whatever: With the world at a standstill because of pandemic shutdowns, a game can feel like one of few reliable ways to experience accomplishment. (Homemade bread is another favorite.) I realized this and decided I needed a way to game on my PC without monopolizing the TV.

I found a solution in Moonlight. It’s a simple open-source streaming service that morphs my iPad into a perfect gaming laptop. Using Moonlight, I can use my iPad to stream content from my PC. If I want to play Warcraft in bed — and I might because of the absurd combination of seasonal affective disorder and looming threat of airborne contagion — now I can. Lag is minimal, so even twitchier games like Marvel vs. Capcom work well, although you’ll want to pair a controller for that.

The setup process was very straightforward: I installed the program on my gaming rig (an Nvidia card and the free Nvidia GeForce Experience software are required), installed the app on my iPad through the App Store, and connected them with a simple authentication code. Now I’m running Final Fantasy XIV dungeons while Real Housewife Ramona pounds pinot grigio. I’m a man of diverse tastes, and now they all fit together.

I’ve also experimented with using Moonlight to play Magic Arena on my iPhone. It’s a great fit, and if such a thing as a “commute” existed anymore, I’d be quite happy grinding through Kaldheim drafts on the bus.

Some additional tips:

  • Moonlight will auto-populate some games on its launch screen, but I prefer to go through the desktop and open them manually. To do this, you’ll have to go into Nvidia GeForce Experience and add “mstsc.exe” to the “Games & Apps” list. (Step five here.) Moving forward, you’ll be able to open that and get the full desktop experience on your second device.
  • My iPad Pro can display HDR content, but HDR doesn’t seem to work on Moonlight. I realized I had to disable HDR to avoid grossly washed-out colors. It’s not a big deal, honestly. Sometimes I’ve had to disable HDR, exit the Moonlight app on my iPad, and reopen it for the content to display properly — a process that takes seconds.
  • Sometimes I need to readjust the mouse cursor speed once I’m streaming my desktop. Type “mouse pointer” into the Windows 10 search bar, click “change the mouse pointer display or speed,” then crank it up. I’ve noticed that this has a tendency to reset between sessions, although never in the middle of one.
  • Moonlight isn’t the only desktop- and game-streaming option, of course. I’ve also tried Steam Link and Duet Display. Moonlight beats them both for quality and usability. Once it’s set up, the program generally works without navigating any annoying menus or adjusting the resolution.
  • Moonlight is initially configured to stream on your local network. You can also stream via the internet using the Moonlight Internet Hosting Tool — this is pretty easy to set up and will allow you to tap into your gaming PC from wherever. There is a downside, in that for the simplest setup, you need to disable the sleep setting on your PC, which means it’ll sap power needlessly. That’s not great!
  • The app offers two “touch modes”: touchpad and touchscreen. I only ever use touchpad, which emulates the experience of using a touchpad on your screen — drag your finger around and the cursor will follow like you’re using a mouse. The touchscreen mode attempts to create an experience more like using a smartphone: Tap anywhere on the screen and the cursor will pop over there. I’ve found that it’s incredibly finicky and unreliable, so I recommend using the first mode.

Here’s where I’ll concede that this is all a little silly. It’s luxury ladled onto luxury. But I think Moonlight is worth pointing out for one primary reason: It’s a transformative application for technology you already have. I have a gaming PC, I have an iPad, and now the two harmonize to make my life a little bit better — no waste was generated, no populations harmed. In this respect, they’re better than Dude Wipes, at least.

You’ll find the instructions and all the Github links you need at Moonlight’s website. Though I use Moonlight mostly on my iPad, there are versions for PC, Mac, ChromeOS, Android, iOS, Apple TV, Raspberry Pi, and even the PlayStation Vita.

Co-Founder and Former Editor in Chief, OneZero at Medium

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