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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