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The top videogame controller buttons - Part 1

R-button – Super Nintendo – 1991

Nintendo could have just added a simple D-button and still been ahead of the competition, but they threw a curveball into the controller mix. And to shake a stick at tradition even more violently, they designed the R-button to be pressed with an index finger, not the thumb. This button, like several others on our list, turned the entire industry on its head.


Above: We promise the R-button is there. You just can’t see it 

Both durable and non-circular, the “R” has stood the test of time. Controllers continue to use the index finger option to add extra buttons in the same way the SNES did all those years ago. (However, the coloration of future buttons tended to emulate the European, Japanese and Australian scheme, instead of the North American one.)


Above: Sorry, non-North Americans, you’re not tough enough to use the purple version

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#-button – Jaguar Controller – 1993

Before the Atari Jaguar, people had always made the assumption that buttons should serve a purpose. Atari didn’t see buttons that way; they saw them as art. Button critics didn’t know what to make of the # found at the bottom right-hand side of the controller, so it was met with initially mixed reviews. “What do we need a # button for in a game?” Are we supposed to be using this as a phone? What does the # do on the phone?” There were already another 24 buttons on the controller, including 11 identical gray buttons assuming formation next to the #, each with a number (or an equally enigmatic “*”) etched into the plastic to indicate its function. The button took everything we’d assumed about button function and debased it, in the same way the Jaguar undermined our automatic connection between consoles and fun.


Above: We count the D-pad as eight buttons, one for each direction 

Often misunderstood, the #-button was widely underrated. People didn’t understand that it was a piece of social commentary saying that we could transcend the form-and-function relationship that had limited buttons in the past. Its influence continues to be felt, however, and discerning critics may see echoes of the #-button in modern counterparts, such as the PS3 controller’s L2 button, which also generally does nothing.


Above: Number 2 

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X-button – PlayStation – 1995

Back in ’95, there were a lot of buttons that couldn’t distinguish themselves from each other. Say you were playing a game and not really paying much attention. You hit the button under your thumb. Of course, it’s the A-button, but what system are you playing? Maybe NES? Could be a Genesis A-button, though. Or even a Game Boy or Jaguar, though Atari’s Jag controller went C-B-A, from left to right. That’s where the PlayStation comes in.


Above: Ain’t no letters on this fine-lookin’ piece of plastic (except maybe ‘X’) 

Maybe it was some kind of copyright issue, but Sony went the outside-of-the-box route and created the X-button. Different from the A,B,C variety because X comes at the end of the alphabet, “X” is complemented by three other buttons, the triangle, square and circle, that don’t adhere to the “buttons are letters” precedent at all. We picked the X-button because, in addition to bridging the gap between letters and shapes, it made us think, “Is it supposed to be the letter ‘X’? Or is it an ‘X’ shape?” This marked the last time Sony did something unusual with a controller.

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‘W’ - Our Keyboard

The “W” key combines an appealing and generally square face with its titular letter plopped in the center of the key. Of course, it’s only one letter in a 26-letter alphabet, but we think the “W” merits more praise than its peers. When you consider the four directional buttons, 10 number keys, 14 standard English punctuation marks and various WoW-oriented keys, the “W” is still our favorite. Capable of being modified to produce either the standard lower-case or the more distinguished upper-case version to suit most users’ word-formation needs, the key really comes into its own when playing almost any PC shooter, where it controls our favorite direction, forward. This makes it one of the few keys that not only performs its intended function, but has also taken up the mantle of a forward directional key that is on the left of the keyboard. That forward arrow must be jealous.


Above: That’s the forward arrow, all the way on the other side 

We’d still like to see a few more things out of the next generation of “W.” For instance, it could incorporate a double-click feature to produce some other letter, or perhaps a triple-u? Like this: \/\/\/. There’s also room for growth; we’ve seen some things that are being done with the space bar, and it’s at least 10 years ahead in terms of size. 

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64 comments

  • inSovietRussiaDatesRecallBrettElston - April 6, 2011 12:44 a.m.

    i remember eagerly anticipating a part 2 and then getting super disappointed that it never happened
  • KrazyGamer - February 14, 2011 1:46 a.m.

    Funny Article.
  • coolbeans - October 26, 2009 9:28 p.m.

    i hit my screen when i saw that big red button...
  • Hydrohs - October 26, 2009 2:27 a.m.

    I read this article before reading the author, and the writing style seemed so familiar; then I finally looked at who the author was and everything made sense.
  • super0sonic - October 25, 2009 6:59 a.m.

    Wow this was really interesting in a silly way. I hope to see a Part 2
  • Phazon117 - October 24, 2009 4:54 p.m.

    "We’ve pushed it several times, and encountered no difficulties whatsoever." It's comments like this that make the article so god damn enjoyable.
  • CAPST3R - October 24, 2009 8:40 a.m.

    @nadrewood999: the alphabet's made up of 26 letters, not 26 words. you're even more gramatically incorrect than the article! BTW GR, you forgot two tiiiny little buttons... THE ANALOGUE STICKS AND THE ANALOGUE CLICKS! lol, that rhymed. and the l2 button is used in nearly every game you morons, what are you talking about?
  • Willy105 - October 24, 2009 1:51 a.m.

    This article fails for having the Playstation controller more than one time, and fails even harder for not having the best one of all time: The N64's Z button. OF ALL TIME.
  • Kytl - October 24, 2009 1:05 a.m.

    wheres the Z button? thats my favorite button after the A button
  • secretsearcher - October 22, 2009 8:30 p.m.

    You guys have waaaaaay too much time on your hands. But I will say this. The X button on the Gamecube should have recieved some recognition. It would be very hard to stay alive in Smash Bros. if you couldn't jump. (p.s. I know you CAN jump by flicking up on the control stick, but really, no one does that.)
  • bilstar - October 22, 2009 7:37 p.m.

    Great article.
  • Claymore17 - October 22, 2009 6:57 p.m.

    paul ryan??? whhaaattt?? isn't that the really deep voice guy that says "that's pretty funny" on tdar? i thought he left gamesradar
  • rxb - October 22, 2009 1:05 p.m.

    Strange article. Also you can turn as 360 by pressing the disc tray button.
  • AHolyMonk - October 22, 2009 1:49 a.m.

    Excellent Article! I did notice the absence of the Intellivision controller wheel, the granddaddy of all modern analog sticks. What a beautiful mix of form and function, no?
  • JoeMasturbaby - October 21, 2009 9:36 p.m.

    "(“O-G”) mouse button,..." HAHAHAHAHAHA great article, O-G buttons fo lyfe!
  • TheHolyHandGrenade - October 21, 2009 8:41 p.m.

    Great artical! never seen somone spend four pages on controller buttons before!
  • THEBIGJ3 - October 21, 2009 7:34 p.m.

    Great read! Very informative! haha! Being left handed though, I've never used the W button on the keyboard for forward, not once, so the UPARROW key get's my vote there, and the zero on the number pad for those all-important, super-accessible, Call-Of-Duty, little-finger reloads... Also another lefty issue with the mouse: "You may be familiar with this button already, but if not, have a look at your right hand’s index finger. There should be a left button directly underneath." However the left button is, as you suggest, quite legendary. No button under here, just a beer. :-D
  • bloodyshadow - October 21, 2009 6:45 p.m.

    This was absolutely hilarious! Great job, as usual Mr. Ryan.
  • TreeWhale - October 21, 2009 6:38 p.m.

    I am a Whale And i live in a tree but squirrels don't like me because i am in a tree I am a Whale
  • MagicalSarai - October 21, 2009 5:55 p.m.

    I anticate and eagerly await the second part of this article.

Showing 1-20 of 64 comments

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