Evolution of the Console Controller – Nintendo Zapper (1984)

The Zapper is Nintendo’s light gun for the NES. It allows the player to “shoot” objects on screen in compatible games. The Zapper was included with the NES in some packages, most famously alongside a combination Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros. cartridge (1988). The Zapper is a product of an era when game companies were still trying many controller styles, and owning many different types of controller was common. Furthermore, Nintendo wanted to differentiate the NES from previous home consoles, and along with a short-lived robotic accessory named R.O.B., the Zapper was a way to do so.

The Zapper works by first flashing the television screen dark when the trigger is pulled, then flashing all shootable targets white. If the light sensor inside the Zapper detects the white light of the targets, the player scores a hit. For multiple targets the white blocks are drawn in sequence so the NES can tell which target is hit via timing. Crafty players have found that aiming the Zapper at a bright enough light source will always register hits despite not even aiming at the TV.

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Gift of Ray Merkler, 2012.011.064f