There have been many different ways of playing video games on a console (and sometimes PC) over the years. Some have been better than others. How do you figure that out? For starters, I think you need to distance them from the console they were part of. The PlayStation’s original controller was not as sexy as the console’s marketing. And just because the NES is many people’s starting point with a lifetime of Nintendo fandom doesn’t mean its controller was as well-designed as Mario’s jump.

In assessing these controllers on their own merits, then, I’ve taken a number of things into account. Comfort and durability are top of the list, but I’ve also examined how innovative they were. Not in gimmicky terms—the Wii’s motion controls seemed pioneering at the time, but how did that shake out?—but in more substantial ways, like overall design patterns that would be copied for generations of consoles to come.

Finally, I’ve considered the controller’s place in time. No pad from the 80s or 90s is going to compare with a DualShock 4 or Xbox controller in terms of comfort or features, nor be suitable for the games we’re playing today, but that’s not the point: the point will be how well did a controller reflect the games and needs of a player at the time?

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