The history of video game controllers is incredible and fascinating, with origins tracing back to the first computers, military operations, aerospace technology, and medical applications.
What was the first game controller?
The very first game controller to be showcased on this ultimate video game controller timeline is the control box for the immensely influential space combat video game Spacewar!, which is the first known game to be publicly distributed and played on multiple computer installations. It was created in 1962 by computer scientists for the DEC PDP-1 minicomputer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The game featured two spaceships, “the wedge” and “the needle”, which engaged in a dogfight while trying to evade a lethal gravity well.
At first, the game was controlled by the front panel of the minicomputer, but this proved to wear down quickly and be cumbersome for two players. To combat this difficulty, computer programmer Bob Saunders developed an early gamepad, which is the first controller on this timeline.
This gamepad featured a switch for turning right or left, a switch for thrusting forward or engaging in hyperspace, and a torpedo launch button. The button was constructed to be silent so the opposing player would not tip off about an incoming torpedo.
When was the first video game joystick invented?
The first video game joystick was invented in 1967 by Ralph H. Baer, the creator of the Magnavox Odyssey console which was launched in 1972. It was capable of controlling the horizontal and vertical position of a spot displayed on screen. Prior to this, an electrical two-axis joystick was invented by C.B. Mirick at the United States Naval Research Laboratory in 1926 with the intended use of remotely controlling aircraft.
The Magnavox Odyssey also featured the Shooting Gallery, a light gun accessory, which makes its mark in video game controller history as the first light gun for consoles. It functioned by “registering” a hit when pointed at a light source such as a dot on the television screen.
As you explore the timeline, you can see how these early video game controller functions both evolved and stayed true to their origins throughout the years.