Evolution of the Console Controller

Welcome to the Evolution of Console Controllers exhibit!

This exhibit covers 35 years of controller evolution, from the early design of the Fairchild all the way through the recent releases of the Kinect and the PlayStation Move, as well as dozens of controllers along the way and off on the fringes. The exhibit is broken up into a few big categories:

The Classic Era: Before 1982 there was no generally accepted standard for game controllers. The nascent videogames industry was trying many input devices, looking for a few great ideas to settle on. The Atari 2600 had well over a dozen different controllers produced throughout its lifetime.

The D-Pad Era: The modern cross shaped D-Pad, engineered by Gunpei Yokoi, originated in 1982 on the Game and Watch version of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. It immediately proved popular and has seen use on every Nintendo console since. It also continues to see extensive use across non-Nintendo game platforms.

The Analog Era: Though the first video game console to include an analog controller was the Atari 5200 (1982), analog control did not become common in console controls until the fifth console generation, best known for the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Saturn.

The Modern Era: Console controls are in a transitional period. Traditional buttons and sticks are combining with or making way for new controls like voice, motion sensitive remotes, and even whole body motion sensors. Nintendo was the only console manufacturer to release their console with a fundamentally different controller. The immense popularity of the Wii took competitors by surprise. They quickly followed Nintendo’s capture of the alternative controls market with the later release of the Kinect and PS Move.

Finally, for controllers that don’t fit into one of our categories, we have the Esoteric and Experimental Controllers. Along with the iconic controllers we know and love, many companies attempted to diverge in new directions. Some of the results were immediate dead-ends while some of them were far ahead of their time, heralding controller advancements that are being achieved today. This segment contains a grab-bag of the most interesting and unique controllers we could find, including several recently-released modern controllers that are attempting to redefine how people play games.

If you’d like to read the exhibit from the very beginning, we recommend starting with the Classic Era.

This exhibit wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of our sponsors:

Novint, developers of the Novint Falcon.

The developers of the Avenger Controller, shown here.

NeuroSky, developers of the NeuroSky Mindwave.

Sony Computer Entertainment of America, developers of the Sony PlayStation.

And finally, Zeemote, with their namesake controller shown here.

If you’ve enjoyed the exhibit, please consider donating. We need your donations to keep our operations going!