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Game controller

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


A game controller is an input device used to control a video game. A controller is typically connected to a video game console or a personal computer. A game controller can be a keyboard, mouse, gamepad, joystick, paddle, or any other device designed for gaming that can receive input. Special purpose devices, such as steering wheels for driving games and light guns for shooting games, may also exist for a platform. Some devices, such as keyboards and mice, are actually generic input devices and their use is not strictly limited to that of a game controller.

Concise overview

Game controllers can be used to govern the movement or actions of elements in a video or computer game. The type of element controlled depends upon the game, but a typical element controlled would be the game hero. A gamepad, the most common kind of game controller, can have anywhere from a couple of buttons to a dozen or more, combined with multiple omnidirectional control sticks. This lets it control the game elements' movement in up to three dimensions, with many buttons to perform quick actions. Due to the ease of use and precision of gamepads, they have spread from traditional consoles where they originated to computers as a common input device.

Types of game controller


Main article: Gamepad

A gamepad, also known as a joypad, is a type of game controller held with both hands where the thumbs are used to provide input. Gamepads generally feature a set of action buttons handled with the right thumb and a direction controller handled with the left. Making gamepads unfriendly to left handed people.

Most modern game controllers are a variation of a standard gamepad. Some common additions to the standard pad include shoulder buttons placed along the edges of the pad, centrally placed buttons labeled start, select, and mode, and an internal motor to provide force feedback.

A range of gamepads for SEGA video game consoles. Left to right, top-to-bottom: Master System controller (1985), Genesis/Mega Drive controllers (1988+), Digital Saturn controller (1994), Saturn 3D Pad (1996), and Dreamcast controller (1998).
A range of gamepads for SEGA video game consoles. Left to right, top-to-bottom: Master System controller (1985), Genesis/Mega Drive controllers (1988+), Digital Saturn controller (1994), Saturn 3D Pad (1996), and Dreamcast controller (1998).

Gamepads are the primary means of input on nearly all modern video game consoles. Gamepads are also available for personal computers, but few computer games support gamepads, preferring the more conventional keyboards and mice. However, most console emulators support gamepads.


Main article: Paddle (game controller)

A paddle is a controller that features a round wheel and one or more fire buttons. The wheel is used to typically control movement of the player or an object along one axis of the video screen. Paddle controllers were the first analog controllers; they died out when "paddle and ball" type games fell out of favor.


Main article: Trackball

A trackball is basically an upside-down mouse that is manipulated with the palm of one's hand. It has the advantage of not requiring a lot of desktop space, and that it is as fast as one can roll the ball on it. This is faster than one can move a mouse due to space not being an issue.

Notable uses of a Trackball as a gaming controller would be games such as Centipede, Marble Madness,Golden Tee and Sonic Arcade.


Main article: Flight Simulator Style Joystick

This joystick is a computer peripheral that consists of a handheld stick that pivots about one end and transmits its angle in two or three dimensions to a computer. The joystick is often used for flight simulators. HOTAS controllers, which include extra hardware to simulate throttle and rudder controls are popular among fanatics of the genre.

Main article: Fighter Style Joystick

This device can also be a home version of the kind used in the arcade, or for use on emulators. It features a shaft that has a sphere-like handle that is grasped, and one or more buttons for in game actions. Generally the layout has the joystick on the left, and the buttons on the right. There are instances when this is reversed, or the joystick is in the center with button on both sides.

Steering wheel

The steering wheel, essentially a larger version of a paddle, is used for racing simulators such as Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and Need for Speed. Many are force feedback (see Force Feedback Wheel), designed to give the same feedback as you would driving a real car, but the realism of this depends on the game. They usually come with pedals to control the gas and brake. Shifting is taken care of with either paddles, a simple shifter which is moved forward or back to change gears, or a shifter which mimics that of real vehicles, which may use a clutch. Most wheels turn only 200 to 270 degrees lock-to-lock, but some models, such as the Logitech Driving Force Pro, can turn 900 degrees, or 2.5 turns lock-to-lock.

The Namco JogCon paddle was available for the PlayStation game R4: Ridge Racer Type 4. Unlike "real" video game steering wheels, the JogCon was designed to fit in the player's hand. Its much smaller wheel (diameter roughly similar to a soda can's) resembles the jog-and-shuttle control wheel used on some VCRs.

Keyboard and mouse

Main articles: Computer keyboard and Computer mouse
The WASD keyboard setup is used widely
The WASD keyboard setup is used widely

The keyboard and mouse are typical input devices for a personal computer and are currently the main game controllers for computer games. Some video game consoles also have the ability to function with a keyboard and a mouse. The computer keyboard is modeled after the typewriter keyboard and was designed for the input of written text. A mouse is a handheld pointing device used in addition to the keyboard. For games, the keyboard typically controls movement of the character while the mouse is used to control the game camera or used for aiming.

The numeric keypad found on the keyboard is also used as a game controller and can be found on a number of separate devices, most notably early consoles, usually attached to a joystick or a paddle. The keypad is a small grid of keys with at least the digits 0-9.

Light gun

Main article: Light gun

A light gun is a peripheral used to "shoot" targets on a screen. They usually roughly resemble firearms or ray guns. Their use is normally limited to rail shooter or shooting gallery games like those that came with the "Shooting Gallery" light gun. The first home console light gun was released on the Magnavox Odyssey; later on, Nintendo would include one standard on their Famicom and NES. Nintendo will also release a "shell" in the style of a light gun for the Wii Remote.

Touch screen

Nintendo DS Touch screen (bottom)
Nintendo DS Touch screen (bottom)
Main article: Touch screen

A touch screen is an input device that allows the user to interact with the computer by touching the display screen. It was first used on a dedicated console with the Tiger Nintendo popularized it for use in video games with the Nintendo DS; other systems including the Tapwave Zodiac as well as the vast majority of PDAs have also included this feature.

Modern touch screens use a thin, durable, transparent plastic sheet overlayed onto the glass screen. The location of a touch is calculated from the capacitance for the X and Y axes, which varies based upon where the sheet is touched.

RTS, and Programmable PC Controllers

There are a few specialized controllers that are specifically used for RTS games and some arcade type games. These controllers can be programmed to allow the emulation of keys, and macros in some cases. They were developed because some of these games require a keyboard to play, and some players find this to be awkward for such a task. See also:

  • Microsoft Sidewinder Strategic Commander
  • Zboard Fang
  • Ergodex DX1
  • Cyber Snipa Game Pad
  • Zboard Gaming Keyboard
  • Saitek Pro Gamer Control Pad


The Wii's remote control-style controller
The Wii's remote control-style controller

At a smaller scale, other hardware such as train controls (available after Microsoft Train Simulator was released), pinball controllers and multi-button consoles for strategy games were released in the past, but their popularity was limited to hardcore fans of the genre.

Dance pads, essentially a grid of flat pressure sensitive gamepad buttons set on a mat meant to be stepped on, have seen niche success with the popularity of rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution and Pump it Up. The dance pad was first introduced on the Atari 2600, called the "Exus Foot Craz" pad. Nintendo later purchased the technology from Bandai and used it on their "Power Pad", for the Famicom and NES.

Rhythm games with controllers resembling musical instruments like guitars (Guitar Hero), drums (Donkey Konga), or maracas (Samba de Amigo) have also seen some success in arcades and home consoles.

A recent example of specialized, while very simple, game controllers, is the four large "buzzers" (round buttons) supplied with the PlayStation 2 quiz show game series Buzz! (2005, 2006); both game and controllers clearly being inspired by the television show genre.

Nintendo's Wii system utilizes a new kind of controller, called the WiiMote. It has motion sensors and can detect its exact location and orientation in 3D space.

The NeGcon is a unique controller for racing games on the PlayStation. Physically it resembles a gamepad, but its left and right halves twist relative to each other, making it a variation of the paddle controller.

The Atari driving controller was a controller for the Atari 2600, designed specifically for the game Indy 500. It resembles a paddle controller, but its wheel can be continuously rotated in either direction. Unlike a spinner, friction prevented the wheel from gaining momentum.

A few games have made successes in using a headset or microphone as a secondary controller, such as Hey You, Pikachu! and the SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs series. The use of these microphones allowed players to issue commands to the game, controlling teammates (as in SOCOM) and other AI characters (Pikachu).

Longevity of hardware

An Xbox 360 Wireless Controller
An Xbox 360 Wireless Controller

Given the number of mobile and soft rubber parts in controllers it can be expected that after extensive use, some of the buttons will become eventually less responsive due to the softening of the rubber parts that connect the hard exterior button to the integrated circuit. Evidence of this is clearly visible in the video game kiosks in stores. Even the plastic outer casings of joysticks and wheels might crack if used too violently. This becomes more of an issue with cheaper third-party controllers. Button mashing and joystick wobbling were responsible for countless broken controllers until the mid of the 16-bit era, when such games became progressively out of fashion.

Even better built joypads, able to endure mechanical wear for years, can be defeated by the development of games which require more buttons or functions, or changes in the interfaces used, rendering them obsolete. For example, the increasing number of axes and buttons demanded by computer flight simulator titles and the disuse of the PC gameport interface have left many a working PC controller unusable. The end of a game console generation generally brings obsolescence for both a console and its controllers.

Health concerns

The PlayStation 3 Wireless Controller (SIXAXIS)
The PlayStation 3 Wireless Controller (SIXAXIS)

Since the controller is the most common way of interacting with a game, it has to be ergonomically designed to feel comfortable to most of their potential userbase to avoid injuries such as the ones in the RSI group or CTS. Most controllers these days are designed with the relaxed position of the hands in mind, which gave origin to the "horns" design that reduced the soreness and cramping after extended use with older pads such as the NES or the Mega Drive/Genesis.

However, it's nearly impossible to find a perfect solution, since the age of the regular console player can go from the late childhood or early teens to the late thirties or above. The Xbox pad, for instance, was deemed too large for most players when it was released, but actually some users with longer fingers claim to feel more comfortable using it than the smaller Type-S model.

Also, Nintendo fingers was a term coined in the early 90s after video game players had their thumbs badly burnt and even developed blisters due to the hardness of the buttons. A more common, less dangerous phenomenon sometimes known as a Nintendo cramp means the strain felt on the thumbs and the palm below. This tends to occur mostly when using particularly small controllers. The latter may in fact occur on any finger or the hand if it is kept in a prepared "arched" position for a long time, and is much less dangerous than Nintendo Fingers.

See also

  • Comparison of video game controllers
  • 3d motion controller

External links

  • An article about pioneering games and controllers designed for disabled gamers
  • Sock Master's Game controller family tree - A visual history of game controllers and their influences
Game controller styles
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