The History of Video Games and Controllers

Today in class, we were told we would be creating our own video game, through the use of the platform “Makey Makey”. At first, I struggled to figure out the meaning project, as we are simply still hitting buttons to operate the platform, we aren’t actually making our own controllers. In line with my thought at the moment, a point was made that with all of the previous research done, the controllers used today simply must be the most practical. This then made me think. While this is true, I feel as if developers have stayed away from making further developments with the “controllers” used to operate their platforms. Ever since the release of the Atari 2600 back in 1977, the controller (an out-of-game experience) has made minimal progress and expansion, compared to that of the games graphics and display capabilities (in-game experiences). Even today, most controllers still use joysticks and buttons to operate in the game. This is seen with both older platforms (such as the Nintendo 64 and Atari consoles) and newer ones (such as Xbox and PlayStation, while they do offer Kinect versions). A few of the platforms that managed to stray away from the use of the classic controller were the Wii along with IOS games. There are others, however, the list is limited. This is a website showing controller history progression.

This also relates to the idea of “Settler colonialism”, presented by Jill Stauffer in the article “Disrupting: all the familiar geometry”. It states that most subjects in western democracies believe that their political systems are just and fair because they do not consider the conditions and the ways in which the systems were implemented (ie. violence). Since these people do not consider that things could be different, “they do not realize that they are at least in part responsible for how things are” (Stauffer, 3). Relating this to video games, I feel as if the in-game experience has made incredible advancements over the years, while the out-of-game experience has only slightly improved. Xbox, 17 years after its release date, is still operated with a very similar controller to the original one.

Now, in knowing this, the main idea of the project, creating our own controllers, is even more intriguing to me. History has shown that the most successful developers have struggled to create (or stayed away from) different controllers, or, different ways to operate under their platforms. It is important that this is known, as it reveals the true meaning of the project – the way in which the ability to create our own controllers influences the creation of the game.

One thought on “The History of Video Games and Controllers

  1. I appreciate this post because, like you, I also wondered what creating our own video game controllers would help us accomplish. I figured that, regardless of the controllers that we created, the players of the game would care much more about whatever was on screen. However, this post made me consider why controllers have not changed much in years. I guess I always felt that the lack of change was due to the developers not wanting to interfere with the familiarity consumers already have with the current controllers. For example, I have been playing the PlayStation since before I started elementary school (starting with the PlayStation 2). And one of the reasons I am so fiercely loyal to it and almost always refuse to play games on other consoles, is because even with the PS3, PS4, and PS Vita, I never have to look down while playing to see where certain buttons are because I have had it memorized since before I could even add. And since that was so long ago, the idea of learning a new controller is pretty much foreign to me and having to do so would ruin the game for me. So with that in mind, I realize how important the design of the controller is, and how it can make or break a game.

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