Video game controllers have changed a good deal throughout the years. Here’s what that evolution looks like.

It traces the history of gaming gear from the boxy NES days to the ergonomic controllers of today.

It includes some strange, lost-to-history one-offs, like the Bally Astrocade (is that a flask?).

As well as more familiar units like the NES zapper.

As you get to the bottom of the chart, however, you’ll see a new introduction to the devices: touch screens.

And while everyone loves Guitar Hero, it’s the iPod Touch and its brethren that truly stand to redefine gaming as we know it.

Infographic: The Amazing Evolution Of Video Game Controllers

A thorough family tree of the gear we use to game, from the Playstation Move to the Power Glove.

Like the games we play with them, video game controllers have grown more complex throughout the years. They’ve become more ergonomic, and their buttons have multiplied. They’ve incorporated new technologies, like haptic feedback and touch screens. And most recently, in some cases, they’ve started disappearing entirely, with buttons being replaced by the movement of our own bodies tracked by sophisticated motion sensors.

As in nature, though, that evolution isn’t a simple generational march. It has side-streets and detours and dead-ends. It included periods of rapid transformation and lulls of incremental change. Here’s what all of that progress looks like.

The Evolution of Video Game Controllers, by Pop Chart Lab, is actually an update of one of the group’s earlier graphics, from 2011. The first chart had just over 100 different controllers. This revised infographic adds 50 or so more, including entire categories that weren’t included the first time—namely handheld gaming systems, from the Game Gear to the DS—as well as obscure limited edition products like the Wu-Tang controller for the original Playstation.

But there’s one inclusion on the new family tree that represents a truly significant shift in gaming—a revolution more than an evolutionary change: the iPod Touch. Along with its cellular-enhanced sibling, the iPhone, and that device’s smartphone and tablet brethren, these touch-screen devices have redefined gaming in a very real way. It’s not just in terms of how we control the games, either, but how we play them in general. Smartphones begat casual gaming, liberating video games from the living room and making them the time-wasting mortar of our daily lives.

Now, we game while we commute, and while we wait for our lunch, and at every other lull where we can fit in a move on Words With Friends. And this graphic show’s us how that came to be. The iPod Touch and devices like it don’t look like gaming controllers, or gaming systems. And when you have a device that isn’t dedicated to gaming, that goes a long way to erasing some of the social stigma surrounding the activity itself. If you whip out a Nintendo DS in line at Starbucks, you’re a gamer. If you pull out your iPhone and start flinging Angry Birds, you’re just a person who happens to be playing a game, and at this point, perhaps for the first time in the history of video games, that’s perfectly normal.

Buy a print of the graphic here.

[IMAGE: Control Pad, Great Beyond via Flickr]

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  • one_christian_warrior

    here are some next generation joystick designs
    could you imagine playing a first person quest game
    with all the different weapons in your arsenal
    like a two-handed battle-axe
    or operating a bow
    aiming with one hand
    + pulling the bow string back
    or just having a sword in one hand
    + your shield in the other hand

  • Martin Kirk

    ... Maybe the author should look at evolution biology, at how the scientists picture speciation...

    Just a suggestion...

  • al

    ...except that in biological evolution, you don't have species that are the union of two or more parent species from completely different branches (except in cases with very similar parent species, like mules). Mammoths can't mate with cephalopods to create giant furry aquatic mammals with tentacles and tusks (sadly).

    With technology, however, you do have people looking at things from separate branches to come up with an idea that combines features of both branches. 

  • Martin Kirk

    So the point of this hard to read info-graphics is to confuse the viewer ??

    Using landscape instead of portrait , deviding controllers into distinct groups, although overlapping would have been much better...

    Currently its just a useless poster, pretending to be informative...

  • al

    If you looked closely enough to follow the lines (which are colour-coded to show rough categories), you'd have seen that there aren't clear distinct groups. You'd see there's a lot of cross-pollination - there are distinct lineages that last a generation or two, then an idea from one lineage is crossed with another from a different branch.

    You're criticising it for accurately showing a feature of the data - that it's not neat or simple, but, the origins of specific ideas can be traced back.