The Ultimate Timeline of 130 Video Game Controllers

The history of video game controllers is fascinating, tracing its origins through the first computers, medical applications, military operations, and aerospace technology. Joysticks, arcade pads, wheels, VR headsets, wireless controllers — all of these devices can be traced back to rudimentary devices that were developed to live, work, and play more efficiently. VR Space has created an extensive timeline of video game controllers so we can admire just how far we have come and daydream about where we are going:

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What Was the First Video Game Controller?

The grandfather of video game controllers was created to play Spacewar!, a space combat game that many consider to be the very first video game. It was developed in 1962 by Steve Russell in collaboration with Bob Saunders, Wayne Wiitanen, Steve Piner, and Martin Graetz. It was developed for the DEC PDP-1 microcomputer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The game consisted of two human-controlled spaceships, “the needle” and “the wedge,” which were engaged in a dogfight while maneuvering the gravity well of a star. Each ship had limited weaponry and fuel, and the ships continued to move even when the player was not actively accelerating. The ships could be destroyed by colliding with the star, a torpedo, or each other. Players could also use a hyperspace feature that teleported them to a random location, but this could put them in harm’s way.

The game was initially controlled by switches on the PDP-1 until Saunders developed a detached game pad to help reduce the struggle and awkwardness of controlling the ships. This game pad featured a switch for turning left and right, a switch for forward thrust or hyperspace, and a torpedo launch button. The buttons were designed to be silent so the opposing player would not be warned if a torpedo was launched. This simple game pad became what many consider to be the first video game controller.

What Was the First Joystick Controller?

The first console joystick is considered to be the Atari standard joystick, developed for the Atari 2600 in 1977. It featured a single fire button and a navigational toggle. Prior to the use of joysticks for consoles and arcade games, the technology was initially developed for use in military and aerospace operations.

When was the joystick invented? The first electrical two-axis joystick was invented by C.B. Mirick at the United States Naval Research Laboratory and patented in 1926. The Naval Research Laboratory intended to use the joystick to control remote aircraft. In the patent, Mirick states: “My control system is particularly applicable in maneuvering aircraft without a pilot.” At the time, it was called an “Electrical Distant-Control System.”

By the 1960s, joysticks became prevalent in radio-controlled model aircraft systems such as the Kwik Fly. NASA also adopted the technology to use in the Apollo, Mercury, and Gemini space missions. Joysticks enabled astronauts to have manual control of yaw, pitch, and roll (the rotational capacity of aircraft). While we did not include these early non-gaming joysticks, it is fascinating to know about them as part of video game controller history.

What Was the First VR Headset?

The first VR headset that was connected to a computer and not a camera is considered to have been the Sword of Damocles, invented in 1968 by Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull. It was a large, cumbersome, uncomfortable headset that had to be suspended from the ceiling with the user strapped in. The computer-generated graphics were simple wireframe rooms and objects. Prior to that, other headsets such as the Telesphere Mask (1960) were created, but they did not offer any interaction or motion tracking.

A Timeline of Video Game Controllers Over Time

Controller

Platform

Year

 

Magnavox Odyssey controller

 

Magnavox Odyssey

 

1972

 

Shooting Gallery

 

 

Magnavox Odyssey

 

1972

Paddle

 

Atari 2600

 

1972

Fairchild Channel F controller

 

Fairchild Channel F

 

1976

Atari CX40 Joystick

 

Atari 2600

 

1978

Intellivision controller

 

Intellivision

1979

Commodore 64 Original Joystick

 

Commodore 64

 

1982

Commodore 64 Joystick C-1342

 

Commodore 64

 

1982

TAC-2

 

Commodore 64

 

1982

ColecoVision Hand Controller

 

ColecoVision

 

1982

Vectrex controller

 

Vectrex

1982

ColecoVision Super Action Controller

 

ColecoVision

1983

NES controller

 

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

 

1983

Famicom controller

 

NES

1983

NES Zapper

 

NES

1984

Master System controller

 

Sega Master System

 

1986

NES Advantage

 

NES

1987

Sega Genesis controller

 

Sega Genesis

 

1988

Nintendo Power Glove

 

NES

1989

Apollo Pro Joystick

 

Sega Mega Drive, Neo Geo, PC Engine, Super NES

 

Early 1990s

SNES/Super Famicom controller

 

Super NES (SNES)

 

1990

Gizmo

Sega Mega Drive

 

1990

Cheetah Annihilator

 

Commodore 64GS

 

1990

Super NES Mouse

 

SNES

1991

Konami LaserScope

 

NES

1991

CD-i 910 controller

 

CD-i

 

1991

Gravis PC GamePad

 

IBM PC

 

1992

Aviator 3

 

Sega Mega Drive

 

1992

Menacer

Sega Genesis

 

1992

Super Scope

 

SNES

1992

BatterUP

 

SNES

1992

6-Button Arcade Pad

 

Sega Genesis

 

1993

Activator (first full-body motion controller)

 

Sega Genesis

 

1993

SG Mega Star

 

Sega Mega Drive

 

1993

Dual Turbo

 

Sega Mega Drive

 

1993

Konami Justifier

 

Sega Genesis

 

1993

LaserActive controller

 

LaserActive LD PAC

 

1993

3DO Interactive Multiplayer controller

 

3DO Interactive Multiplayer

 

1993

Thrustmaster Formula T1

 

PC

1994

Sega Saturn controller

 

Sega Saturn

 

1994

PlayStation Mouse

 

Sony PlayStation

 

1994

PlayStation controller

 

PlayStation

 

1994

Virtual Boy controller

 

Virtual Boy

 

1995

Namco GunCon controller

 

PlayStation

1994

NeGcon

PlayStation

 

1995

Tiger R-Zone controller

 

Tiger R-Zone

 

1995

Apple Pippin controller

 

Apple Pippin

 

1996

Nintendo 64 controller

 

Nintendo 64

 

1996

3D Pad

 

Sega Saturn

 

1996

Dual Analog controller

 

PlayStation

 

1997

DualShock

 

PlayStation

1997

Sidewinder FreeStyle Pro

 

PC

1998

Dreamcast controller

 

Sega Dreamcast

 

1998

Sega Fishing Controller

 

Dreamcast

 

1999

Wu Tang: Shaolin Style Controller

 

PlayStation

1999

Samba de Amigo Maracas

 

Dreamcast

1999

DualShock 2

 

PlayStation 2

 

2000

Phantasy Star Online Keyboard Controller

 

Nintendo GameCube

 

2000

Nintendo GameCube controller

 

GameCube

2001

Namco GunCon 2 controller

 

PlayStation 2

 

2001

First-generation Xbox controller (“The Duke”)

 

Microsoft Xbox

 

2001

Steel Battalion

 

Xbox

2002

WaveBird Wireless controller

 

GameCube

 

2002

Xbox Controller 5

 

Xbox

2002

DK Bongo

 

GameCube

 

2003

Katana the Soul Controller

 

PlayStation 2

 

2004

Atari Flashback joysticks

 

Atari Flashback

 

2004

NubyTech Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller

 

PlayStation 2

 

2005

Xbox 360 controller

 

Xbox 360

 

2005

Harmonix Guitar Hero Guitar Controller

 

PlayStation 2

 

2005

Harmonix Guitar Hero II Guitar Controller (Gibson SG)

 

PlayStation 2, Xbox 360

 

2006

Sixaxis

PlayStation 3

 

2006

Wii Remote

 

Nintendo Wii

 

2006

Nunchuck

Wii

2006

Classic Controller

 

Wii

2006

DualShock 3

 

PlayStation 3

 

2007

Guitar Hero 3 Controller (Gibson Les Paul)

 

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

 

2007

Namco GunCon 3

 

PlayStation 3

 

2007

Rock Band guitar

 

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii

 

2007

Rock Band microphone

 

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii

 

2007

Rock Band drum set

 

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii

 

2007

Guitar Hero 4 controller (Fender Stratocaster)

 

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

 

2008

Classic Controller Pro

 

Wii

2009

DJ Hero Turntable

 

PlayStation 2/3, Wii, Xbox 360

 

2009

Tony Hawk: Ride Skateboard

 

PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360

 

2009

PlayStation Move

 

PlayStation 3

 

2010

PlayStation Move Navigation controller

 

PlayStation 3

 

2010

Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock controller

 

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii

 

2010

Kinect for Xbox 360

 

Xbox 360

 

2010

Wii U GamePad

 

Wii U

 

2012

Wii U Pro Controller

 

Wii U

 

2012

Ouya controller

 

Ouya

2013

DualShock 4

 

PlayStation 4

 

2013

Xbox Wireless Controller

 

Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S

 

2013

Kinect for Xbox One

 

Xbox One

 

2013

Wii Bowling Ball

 

Wii

2013

Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 Spider Racing Wheel

 

PC, Xbox One

 

2014

Samsung Gear VR

 

Samsung phones

 

2015

Guitar Hero Live controller

 

PlayStation 3/4, Wii U, Xbox 360/One

 

2015

Steam Controller

 

Linux, macOS, Windows

 

2015

HTC Vive (1st Gen.)

 

SteamVR

 

2016

Oculus Touch 1st Gen. (Prototype called Half Moon)

 

Oculus Rift

 

2016

PlayStation VR

 

PlayStation VR

 

2016

Joy-Con

 

Nintendo Switch

 

2017

Joy-Con Wheel

 

Nintendo Switch

 

2017

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

 

Nintendo Switch

 

2017

Oculus Go

 

Oculus VR

 

2018

HTC Vive Pro Controller

 

SteamVR

 

2018

Xbox Adaptive Controller

 

Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S

 

2018

HTC Vive Focus

 

Viveport

2018

Poké Ball Plus

 

Nintendo Switch

 

2018

Vive Pro Eye

 

SteamVR, Viveport

 

2019

Xbox Elite Controller Series 2

 

Windows, Xbox consoles

 

2019

Vive Focus Plus

 

Vive Business

 

2019

Dragon Quest Slime Controller

 

Nintendo Switch

 

2019

Google Stadia

 

Google Stadia

 

2019

Valve Index

 

PC

2019

Vive Cosmos

 

Vive Reality System

 

2019

Mario Kart Racing Wheel Pro Deluxe

 

Nintendo Switch

 

2019

Oculus Touch (2nd Gen.)

 

Oculus Rift S, Oculus Quest

 

2019

Razer Kishi

 

iOS or Android

 

2020

DualSense

 

PlayStation 5

 

2020

Oculus Touch (3rd Gen.)

 

Oculus Quest 2 (now Meta Quest 2)

 

2020

Vive Cosmos Elite

 

Vive Reality System

 

2020

Vive Cosmos Play

 

Vive Reality System

 

2020

Vive Cosmos XR

 

Vive Reality System

 

2020

Vive Pro 2

 

SteamVR, Viveport

 

2021

Vive Focus 3

 

Vive Business

 

2021

Vive Flow

 

Viveport Infinity

 

2021

 

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