My question comes directly from the fact that the popular RetroArch emulator uses Escape key to quit the whole application and, moreover, it's apparently a big source of drama for some.

It personally perplexes me as barring some really obscure examples every game and app I used did not close itself when you press escape (with the notable exception of Game Maker games which have/had it by default and it has to be manually disabled). I actually thought it's common knowledge and an established UX pattern for escape to only pause whatever you're currently doing (and instant quit being reserved to alt+f4) but looking around I don't think I can find anything on that.

So, is immediately closing an application when the user presses escape good, bad or neutral UX? I am specifically asking about desktop applications, not web apps (unless they are run in a context of a self-contained desktop application like NW.js, which makes them not really a web application anymore)

  • keepass, the password database, minimizes on ESC. In that context, a quick way to obscure information is logical. For RetroArch, I don't see any benefit in that mapping but I do see a strong negative: mistapping F1 with ESC has irreversible consequences.
    – bishop
    Jan 5, 2017 at 3:21

2 Answers 2


Conventions are there to make life easier to users. User expectation is both for patterns they expect and patterns they don't expect.

If a rule or convention is skipped there has to be a good reason to do so.

So in the case you describe and only with that information, in my opinion, it is not a good idea to:

  • Ignore alt+f4, you didn't mention it but if the case is this then it ignores user-expectation
  • Use a key combination which is not expected to do a certain action
  • Quit an application with a single key. Because it could be pressed accidentally, adding a two key combination adds some strain to the Quit action
  • 2
    +1 for Quit an application with a single key, this alone would already be enough to object the idea
    – Big_Chair
    Jan 4, 2017 at 12:54
  • When I highlight text in the terminal and accidentally use Ctrl + C instead of Ctrl + Shift + C to copy the text, I accidentally close the application. So sometimes two keys to close an application isn't good either. Jun 5, 2023 at 21:47

It's not about good or bad it's only about preferences.

since being a gamer myself Esc key always helped me in navigating easily inside games, but I never came across any game in my life which completely closed on Esc keypress. Also you can find the use of Esc keys in web-apps, for ex. closing a modal window on Esc keypress.

I don't know about RetroArch emulator(sorry for that) whats it's context and reason behind closing the app on Esc key press.

So for me it's only a matter of choice how you want to use Esc key. but I would never close my app on Esc keypress.

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