Genealogy of video game console controllers

Video game controllers have come a long way since the pioneering early early days, with many flops along the way (such as 1995’s Nintendo Virtual Boy pictured above).

These days we have ergonomics, haptics, touchpads, touchscreens, motion detecting gyroscopes, and more buttons than we can push at once – but it wasn’t always this good.

Below we take a look at the prominent video game controllers that shaped the modern beauties we cradle in our hands today.

For comparison, soak in the images of the latest console controllers from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo before seeing how we arrived there.

Xbox One controller

Xbox One controller

DualShock 4 controller

DualShock 4 controller

Wii U GamePad

Wii U GamePad

Magnavox Odyssey (1972)

Magnavox Odyssey plus controller

Magnavox Odyssey plus controller

The progenitor of video game console controllers – the first to have been used for a home video console – came with the Magnavox Odyssey.

Like all humble beginnings, this controller was quite limited. Only 2 knobs were used to control the video games on display: one for vertical movement and the other for horizontal movement.

This made the system limited to playing pong-like games only.

Atari 2600 (1977)

Atari 2600 joystick

Atari 2600 joystick

One of the most iconic controllers of the video game world: the Atari 2600 joystick. This is a proud component of a console system that popularised video gaming in the home.

The only design hallmark (and honestly, there isn’t much to go on here) that was able to transcend the gaming times is the classic directional joystick which we still have in various forms, such as analogue thumbsticks.

Nintendo Famicom (1983)

Famicom controllers

Famicom controllers

The Nintendo Famicom controller passed down one of the most influential designs that is today a common family trait amongst all video game controllers: the directional pad, or D-pad.

The origins of this design can even be traced further back to the one of the first Nintendo electronic products: the Game & Watch Donkey Kong portable game system.

Nintendo Super Famicom (1990)

Super Famicom controller

Super Famicom controller

The Super Famicom controller featured an additional 2 buttons compared to the original Famicom controller, forming a diamond shape, and providing additional control options by slapping on 2 shoulder buttons.

The face and shoulder buttons are two features which today’s modern controllers still have, and most games would not be playable without these.

Also, whether by mere coincidence or not, the colors of the 4 face buttons of the PAL version of the console can still be seen on Xbox controllers today.

Sony Playstation (1994)

PlayStation One Dual Shock controller

PlayStation One Dual Shock controller

The ergonomic handle shape is what marks a modern video game controller, and it’s the DualShock One controller that introduced this concept.

Add to that the ingenuity of twin analog sticks, and you have yourself a proud great-great grandfather of today’s controllers.

Nintendo 64 (1996)

Nintendo N64 Rumble Pak attached to N64 controller

Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak attached to N64 controller

With the Nintendo 64 controller, the innovation of note was to be found in one of its accessories.

The RumblePak for the N64 controller was the first time home video game players would be able to receive direct feedback into their hands as events happened on screen – a precursor of today’s ubiquitous vibration haptic feedback.

Although it cannot be called the grand-daddy of feedback technology, as earlier arcade games did implement this technology, it can definitely be seen as the trendsetter in the home.

Wii (2006)



The Wiimote showed us how to do more than just hold a controller.

Motion controlled gaming has not fully infiltrated our gaming habits, but the fact that Nintendo’s competitor’s consoles began to support motion inputs in some way proves that the Wii DNA has managed to stay with the evolution of controllers.

iPhone (2007)



Here’s a cheat. This is not a video game console controller.

It did however introduce touchscreen mechanics for games, something which a couple of years later has been implemented by the likes of the Wii U gamepad, Playstation 4’s Dualshock 4, the Playstation Vita, and Microsoft through its SmartGlass tablet PC bolt-on.

Do you have fond memories of the controllers of yore? Let us know in the comments below.

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Genealogy of video game console controllers

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