Why all game consoles have joystick on the left side?

31 Jan 2006 - 5:18am
8 years ago
6 replies
1589 reads
Andrei Sedelnikov
2004

I was always wondering, why all video game consoles I've seen (XBox,
Nintendo, Gameboy, ...) have a control for the left-right-up-down
navigation on the left side? Navigation requires bigger precision and
speed so because most people are right-handed they have to do it with
a non-dominant (left) hand, which is naturally less precise and
slower.

Ist ist just an occasional solution, which became a standart or there
are some other human factor issues behind it, which I'm not aware of?

regards,

Andrei Sedelnikov
http://usabilist.de/

Comments

31 Jan 2006 - 5:29am
Baldo
2005

Maybe It's something from COIN-OP controller..
( http://www.realwc.com/images/coinup1.jpg )

> Ist ist just an occasional solution, which became a standart or there
> are some other human factor issues behind it, which I'm not aware of?

31 Jan 2006 - 7:31am
George Schneiderman
2004

> I was always wondering, why all video game consoles I've seen (XBox,
> Nintendo, Gameboy, ...) have a control for the left-right-up-down
> navigation on the left side? Navigation requires bigger precision and
> speed so because most people are right-handed they have to do it with
> a non-dominant (left) hand, which is naturally less precise and
> slower.

If it is the "wrong" choice, then you would expect lefties to have a
performance advantage in video games (as they do in baseball, where
they stand closer to first base when batting). Is there any evidence
that this is the case? I would also expect that if it was the "wrong"
choice, that this would have spawned a market for reversed third-party
controls, at least in the PC world. Is that the case? (These are not
meant as rhetorical questions--I know almost nothing about gaming, so I
just have no idea what the answers are.)

--George

31 Jan 2006 - 9:00am
Dan Saffer
2003

Related (but doesn't answer this question): an interview with the
designer of the original Nintendo consol:

http://www.nintendojo.com/interviews/view_item.php?1130801472

31 Jan 2006 - 1:33pm
James Melzer
2004

I'm not a game controller designer, but I've played a heck of a lot of
video games over the past 25 years or so...

I think Baldo has the right answer, which is that the left joystick is
an example of lock in or inertia, much like the QWERTY keyboard.
Everyone knows it; so why change it? The initial coin-op games had
only a joystick (pong, pacman). Then when games required a button or
two (asteroids, defender) it was on the right, where those fine motor
skills could be devoted to button-mashing. And
nintendo/sega/playstation/xbox and so on all adopted that same
standard, more or less.

Of course, one of the biggest-selling game categories these days is
the first-person shooter, which requires a left hand joystick to work
the character's feet and a right hand joystick to work the character's
head (metaphorically speaking). The motor control required by the left
hand is actually significantly simpler and less precise than that of
the right hand.

left thumb - joystick
left index - trigger (rarely used)
right thumb - joystick AND six buttons (all used intermittently)
right index - trigger (used constantly)

~ James

On 1/31/06, Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Related (but doesn't answer this question): an interview with the
> designer of the original Nintendo consol:
>
> http://www.nintendojo.com/interviews/view_item.php?1130801472
>
>
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1 Feb 2006 - 2:56pm
Damon Hamm
2006

It may have been a legacy issue from the days when the firing timing was
the most important skill since many of those early games only allowed
one or two moving 'bullets' on the screen at once. The joystick only
moved in 2, then later 4 directions and were basically controlled with
your full arm - your hand merely secured your arm to the knob.

However the first home joysticks were indeed right hand controlled.
Early Tandy and Apple II joysticks worked with very precise analog
potentiometers (not simply on/off switches) and were usually grasped
between the thumb and index finger. Like Pong's up/down controller,
they did not have a spring return to the 'zero' position, so were more
like today's mice than today's joysticks. (btw, Engelbart's first
mouse, used the same mechanical concept as these joysticks).

Atari and Commodore followed this design with their joysticks - held in
the left hand, left hand thumb used to trigger while the right did all
the fine joystick control. It may have a lot to do with the logistics
of the controller being handheld versus attached to a stationary device.
For the Commodore 64, I do recall third party joysticks that had a
'switchable' button on both sides of the base, while I personally owned
a radically ergonomic one which was held in the left hand, palm up, with
your middle finger on the trigger. (I still have those 20 year old
relics boxed away somewhere)

- Damon

________________________________
Damon Hamm Interaction Designer
DoubleClick Technology Group
111 8th Ave. New York, NY 10011
212-381-5385 dhamm at doubleclick.net
<mailto:dhamm at doubleclick.net212-381-5385t>

4 Feb 2006 - 10:55pm
penguinstorm
2005

On Jan-31-2006, at 11:33 AM, James Melzer wrote:

> I think Baldo has the right answer, which is that the left joystick is
> an example of lock in or inertia, much like the QWERTY keyboard.
> Everyone knows it; so why change it?

Joystick requires less precision. Your hand/thumb/prehensile tale
generally rests there constantly, and needs only move in a general
direction. There is also a finite limit to it's ability to move.

By contrast, buttons require a high degree of precision to strike
both in timing and position. For those who are right handed, the
right hand offers more accurate timing and more precise location of
position.
--
Scott Nelson
skot (at) penguinstorm (dot) com
http://www.penguinstorm.com/

skype. skot.nelson

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