For other uses, see Joystick (disambiguation).
Video game joystick elements: 1. stick, 2. base, 3. trigger, 4. extra buttons, 5. autofire switch, 6. throttle, 7. hat switch (POV hat), 8. suction cup.

A joystick is an input device consisting of a stick that pivots on a base and reports its angle or direction to the device it is controlling. A joystick, also known as the control column, is the principal control device in the cockpit of many civilian and military aircraft, either as a center stick or side-stick. It often has supplementary switches to control various aspects of the aircraft's flight.

Joysticks are often used to control video games, and usually have one or more push-buttons whose state can also be read by the computer. A popular variation of the joystick used on modern video game consoles is the analog stick. Joysticks are also used for controlling machines such as cranes, trucks, underwater unmanned vehicles, wheelchairs, surveillance cameras, and zero turning radius lawn mowers. Miniature finger-operated joysticks have been adopted as input devices for smaller electronic equipment such as mobile phones.


Cockpit of a glider with its joystick visible
A prototype Project Gemini joystick-type hand controller, 1962
Computer port view of the Atari standard connector: 1. up, 2. down, 3. left, 4. right, 5. (pot y), 6. fire button, 7. +5 V DC, 8. ground, 9. (pot x).[1]

Joysticks originated as controls for aircraft ailerons and elevators, and is first known to have been used as such on Louis Bleriot's Bleriot VIII aircraft of 1908, in combination with a foot-operated rudder bar for the yaw control surface on the tail.[2]

The name "joystick" is thought to originate with early 20th century French pilot Robert Esnault-Pelterie.[3] There are also competing claims on behalf of fellow pilots Robert Loraine, James Henry Joyce, and A. E. George. Loraine is cited by the Oxford English Dictionary for using the term "joystick" in his diary in 1909 when he went to Pau to learn to fly at Bleriot's school. George was a pioneer aviator who with his colleague Jobling built and flew a biplane at Newcastle in England in 1910. He is alleged to have invented the "George Stick" which became more popularly known as the joystick. The George and Jobling aircraft control column is in the collection of the Discovery Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Joysticks were present in early planes, though their mechanical origins are uncertain.[4] The coining of the term "joystick" may actually be credited to Loraine, as his is the earliest known usage of the term, although he most certainly did not invent the device.

Electronic joysticks


The electrical two-axis joystick was invented by C. B. Mirick at the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and patented in 1926 (U.S. Patent no. 1,597,416)".[5] NRL was actively developing remote controlled aircraft at the time and the joystick was possibly used to support this effort. In the awarded patent, Mirick writes: "My control system is particularly applicable in maneuvering aircraft without a pilot."[6]

The Germans developed an electrical two-axis joystick around 1944 . The device was used as part of the Germans' Funkgerät FuG 203 Kehl radio control transmitter system used in certain German bomber aircraft, used to guide both the rocket-boosted anti-ship missile Henschel Hs 293, and the unpowered pioneering precision-guided munition Fritz-X,[7] against maritime and other targets. Here, the joystick of the Kehl transmitter was used by an operator to steer the missile towards its target. This joystick had on-off switches rather than analogue sensors. Both the Hs 293 and Fritz-X used FuG 230 Straßburg radio receivers in them to send the Kehl's control signals to the ordnance's control surfaces. A comparable joystick unit was used for the contemporary American Azon steerable munition, strictly to laterally steer the munition in the yaw axis only.[8]

This German invention was picked up by someone in the team of scientists assembled at the Heeresversuchsanstalt in Peenemünde. Here a part of the team on the German rocket program was developing the Wasserfall missile, a variant of the V-2 rocket, the first ground-to-air missile. The Wasserfall steering equipment converted the electrical signal to radio signals and transmitted these to the missile.

In the 1960s the use of joysticks became widespread in radio-controlled model aircraft systems such as the Kwik Fly produced by Phill Kraft (1964). The now-defunct Kraft Systems firm eventually became an important OEM supplier of joysticks to the computer industry and other users. The first use of joysticks outside the radio-controlled aircraft industry may have been in the control of powered wheelchairs, such as the Permobil (1963). During this time period NASA used joysticks as control devices as part of the Apollo missions. For example, the lunar lander test models were controlled with a joystick.

In many modern airliners aircraft, for example all Airbus aircraft developed from the 1980s, the joystick has received a new lease on life for flight control in the form of a "side-stick", a controller similar to a gaming joystick but which is used to control the flight, replacing the traditional yoke. The sidestick saves weight, improves movement and visibility in the cockpit, and may be safer in an accident than the traditional "control yoke".[9]

Electronic games

CH Products Mach 2 analog joystick as used with many early home computer systems. The small knobs are for (mechanical) calibration, and the sliders engage the self-centering springs.

Ralph H. Baer, inventor of television video games and the Magnavox Odyssey console, released in 1972, created the first video game joysticks in 1967. They were able to control the horizontal and vertical position of a spot displayed on a screen.[10] The earliest known electronic game joystick with a fire button was released by Sega as part of their 1969 arcade game Missile, a shooter simulation game that used it as part of an early dual-control scheme, where two directional buttons are used to move a motorized tank and a two-way joystick is used to shoot and steer the missile onto oncoming planes displayed on the screen; when a plane is hit, an explosion is animated on screen along with an explosion sound.[11] In 1970,[12] the game was released in North America as S.A.M.I. by Midway Games.[11]

Taito released a four-way joystick as part of their arcade racing video game Astro Race in 1973,[13] while their 1975 run and gun multi-directional shooter game Western Gun introduced dual-stick controls with one eight-way joystick for movement and the other for changing the shooting direction. In North America, it was released by Midway under the title Gun Fight.[14] In 1976, Taito released Interceptor, an early first-person combat flight simulator that involved piloting a jet fighter, using an eight-way joystick to aim with a crosshair and shoot at enemy aircraft.[15]

The Atari standard joystick, developed for the Atari 2600, released in 1977,[16] was a digital joystick, with a single fire button, and connected via a DE-9 connector, the electrical specifications of which were for much years the de facto standard digital joystick specification. Joysticks were commonly used as controllers in first and second generation game consoles, but they gave way to the familiar game pad with the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System during the mid-1980s, though joysticks—especially arcade-style one—were and are popular after-market add-ons for any console.

In 1985, Sega's third-person arcade rail shooter game Space Harrier introduced a true analog flight stick, used for movement. Its analog joystick could register movement in any direction as well as measure the degree of push, which could move the player character at different speeds depending on how far the joystick is pushed in a certain direction.[17]

A distinct variation of an analog joystick is a positional gun, which works differently from a light gun. Instead of using light sensors, a positional gun is essentially an analog joystick mounted in a fixed location that records the position of the gun to determine where the player is aiming on the screen.[18][19] It is often used for arcade gun games, with early examples including Sega's Sea Devil in 1972;[20] Taito's Attack in 1976;[21] Cross Fire in 1977;[22] and Nintendo's Battle Shark in 1978.[23]

Saitek's Cyborg 3D Gold around the 2000s. Note its throttle, its extra buttons, and its hat switch.

During the 1990s, joysticks such as the CH Products Flightstick, Gravis Phoenix, Microsoft SideWinder, Logitech WingMan, and Thrustmaster FCS were in demand with PC gamers. They were considered a prerequisite for flight simulators such as F-16 Fighting Falcon and LHX Attack Chopper. Joysticks became especially popular with the mainstream success of space flight simulator games like X-Wing and Wing Commander, as well as the "Six degrees of freedom" 3D shooter Descent.[24][25][26][27][28]

However, since the beginning of the 21st century, these types of games have waned in popularity and are now considered a "dead" genre, and with that, gaming joysticks have been reduced to niche products.[24][25][26][27][28] In NowGamer's interview with Jim Boone, a producer at Volition Inc., he stated that FreeSpace 2's poor sales could have been due to joysticks' being sold poorly because they were "going out of fashion" because more modern first-person shooters, such as Quake, were "very much about the mouse and [the] keyboard". He went further on to state "Before that, when we did Descent for example, it was perfectly common for people to have joysticks – we sold a lot of copies of Descent. It was around that time [when] the more modern FPS with mouse and keyboard came out, as opposed to just keyboard like Wolfenstein [3D] or something.".[29]

Since the late 1990s, analog sticks (or thumbsticks, due to their being controlled by one's thumbs) have become standard on controllers for video game consoles, popularized by Nintendo's Nintendo 64 controller,[30] and have the ability to indicate the stick's displacement from its neutral position. This means that the software does not have to keep track of the position or estimate the speed at which the controls are moved. These devices usually use potentiometers to determine the position of the stick, though some newer models instead use a Hall effect sensor for greater reliability and reduced size.

Arcade sticks

Main article: Arcade controller

An arcade stick is a large-format controller for use with home consoles or computers. They use the stick-and-button configuration of some arcade cabinets, such as those with particular multi-button arrangements. For example, the six button layout of the arcade games Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat cannot be comfortably emulated on a console joypad, so licensed home arcade sticks for these games have been manufactured for home consoles and PCs.[31]

Hat switch

Hat switch - at top, in green

A hat switch is a control on some joysticks. It is also known as a POV (point of view) switch. It allows one to look around in one's virtual world, browse menus, etc. For example, many flight simulators use it to switch the player's views,[32] while other games sometimes use it as a substitute for the D-pad. Computer gamepads with both an analogue stick and a D-pad usually assign POV switch scancodes to the latter.

The term hat switch is a shortening of the term "Coolie hat switch", named for the similar-looking headgear.[33]

In a real aircraft, the hat switch may control things like aileron or rudder trim.

DB9 Joystick

DB9 was the most common conector during 1980's.

Pin Atari 800
Atari VCS
Atari 7800
Atari ST
Amiga CD32
MSX Mastersystem
1 /Up /Up /Up /Up /Up /Up /Up /Up /Up /Up Ground unused
2 /Down /Down /Down /Down /Down /Down /Down /Down /Down /Down Down common
3 /Left /Left /Left /Left /Left /Left /Left /Left /Left 1Y (-, /Left) Up unused
4 /Right /Right /Right /Right /Right /Right /Right /Right /Right 2Y (-, /Right) VCC Button
5 Paddle B Button Right /Button 3 Button 3 (POTY) /Button 3 (POTY) Shift Load OUT /Button 3 VCC VCC (+5V) VCC (+5V) Select OUT 1 Up
6 /Button Button common /Button 1 /Button 1 /Button 1 /Fire, Clock OUT /Button 2 /Button 1 TL (/A) TL (/A, /B) Select OUT 2 Right
7 VCC (+5V) VCC (+5V) VCC (+5V) VCC (+5V) VCC (+5V) VCC (+5V) /Button 1 /Button 2 TH (unused) TH (Select OUT) Right Left
8 GND GND GND GND GND GND GND (Row 9) (*5) Strobe OUT GND GND Left common
9 Paddle A Button Left /Button 2 Button 2 (POTX) /Button 2 (POTX) Serial Data IN GND (Row 6) (*5) GND TR (/B) TR (/Start, /C) VCC Down

(*1) The Atari 7800 buttons require special wiring.

(*2) For the second button/right mouse button the POT X line is used (and for 3rd button/middle mouse button POTY), which - different to the other lines - must be pulled to VCC via the button.

(*3) The CD32 supports "game pad mode" and uses pin 5 to switch to it (it is pulled to active high by the CD32). Actual CD32 controllers have active components. Regular "atari" joysticks will work at the CD32, but CD32 controllers will not work at eg a C-64

(*4) The "SEGA" controllers can not be converted into "Atari" Joysticks simply by rewiring them. Unlike regular "Atari sticks" they contain pull-up resistors for each signal line (which might interfere with scanning the keyboard on C64) and some controllers may contain active circuits and will not work without the VCC. The Megadrive controllers use an active circuit. . The Saturn controllers also contain an active circuit and are wired up completely non standard.

(*5) The respective GND lines are pulled low to select the respective "row". Regular Joystick uses row 9.

(*6) Pinout refers to the "Interface Two" ("Sinclair" aka "+3")

Industrial applications

In recent times, the employment of joysticks has become commonplace in many industrial and manufacturing applications, such as; cranes, assembly lines, forestry equipment, mining trucks, and excavators. In fact, the use of such joysticks is in such high demand, that it has virtually replaced the traditional mechanical control lever in nearly all modern hydraulic control systems. Additionally, most unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and submersible remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) require at least one joystick to control either the vehicle, the on-board cameras, sensors and/or manipulators.

Due to the highly hands-on, rough nature of such applications, the industrial joystick tends to be more robust than the typical video-game controller, and able to function over a high cycle life. This led to the development and employment of Hall effect sensing to such applications in the 1980s as a means of contactless sensing. Several companies produce joysticks for industrial applications using Hall effect technology. Another technology used in joystick design is the use of strain gauges to build force transducers from which the output is proportional to the force applied rather than physical deflection. Miniature force transducers are used as additional controls on joysticks for menu selection functions.

Some larger manufacturers of joysticks are able to customize joystick handles and grips specific to the OEM needs while small regional manufacturers often concentrate on selling standard products at higher prices to smaller OEMs.

Assistive technology

Specialist joysticks, classed as an assistive technology pointing device, are used to replace the computer mouse for people with fairly severe physical disabilities. Rather than controlling games, these joysticks control the pointer. They are often useful to people with athetoid conditions, such as cerebral palsy, who find them easier to grasp than a standard mouse.[34] Miniature joysticks are available for people with conditions involving muscular weakness such as muscular dystrophy or motor neurone disease as well. They are also used on electric powered wheelchairs for control since they are simple and effective to use as a control method.[35]

See also


  1. Jamie Rigg (22 June 2012). "Joyride to Joystick: Atari Controller Custom-Built from a Car Seat Adjuster". Engadget. Retrieved 15 September 2015.
  2. AFP (25 July 2009). "English Channel Armada to Mark Centenary of Louis Blériot Flight". Times of Malta. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  3. Zeller Jr., Tom (2005-06-05). "A Great Idea That's All in the Wrist". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-09-07.
  4. Quinion, Michael (2004-07-17). "Questions & Answers: Joystick". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2006-09-07.
  5. "A Timeline of NRL's Autonomous Systems Research" (PDF). United States Naval Research Laboratory. 2011. Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  6. Mirick, C. B. (1926). "Electrical Distant Control System". United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  7. USAAF Wright Field Air Technical Service Command, T-2 Intelligence Department (1946). WF 12-105, Captured Film, 'Fritz X' German Radio-Controlled Dive Bomb (YouTube). The Digital Implosion. Event occurs at 13:45 to 15:00. Archived from the original (YouTube) on April 27, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2013.
  8. United States Office of Strategic Services (1943). WW2: Azon (1943) Radio-Controlled Dive Bomb (YouTube). The Digital Implosion. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  9. John Hutchinson (25 March 2015). "How Safe Is the Airbus A320? 'Workhorse of the Skies' Is Still One of World's Most Reliable Planes Despite Alps Crash, Say Experts". Daily Mail. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  10. Edwards, Benj (2004-07-17). "Video Games Turn Forty". Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  11. 1 2 Missile at the Killer List of Videogames
  12. S.A.M.I. at the Killer List of Videogames
  13. Astro Race at the Killer List of Videogames
  14. Stephen Totilo, In Search Of The First Video Game Gun, Kotaku
  15. Interceptor at the Killer List of Videogames
  16. Grant Brunner (27 May 2013). "Shoulder Buttons of Giants: The Evolution of Controllers Leading Up to PS4 and Xbox One". ExtremeTech. Retrieved 11 September 2015.
  17. Space Harrier Retrospective, IGN
  18. Morgan McGuire & Odest Chadwicke Jenkins (2009), Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology, A K Peters, Ltd., p. 408, ISBN 1-56881-305-8, retrieved 2011-04-03, Light guns, such as the NES Zapper or those used in the House of the Dead series, are distinctly different from positional guns used by arcade games such as SEGA's Gunblade NY. ... Light guns differ from positional guns, such as in Gunblade NY (bottom), that are essentially analog joysticks. ... Positional guns are essentially analog sticks mounted in a fixed location with respect to the screen. Light guns, in contrast, have no fixed a priori relationship with a display.
  19. Yo-Sung Ho & Hyoung Joong Kim (November 13–16, 2005), Advances in Multimedia Information Processing-PCM 2005: 6th Pacific-Rim Conference on Multimedia, Jeju Island, Korea, Springer Science & Business, p. 688, ISBN 3-540-30040-6, retrieved 2011-04-03, The two routes to conventional gun control are light guns and positional guns. Light guns are the most common for video game systems of any type. They work optically with screen and do not keep track of location on the screen until the gun is fired. When the gun is fired, the screen blanks for a moment, and the optics in the gun register where on the screen the gun is aimed. That information is sent to the computer, which registers the shot. ... Positional guns are mounted stationary on the arcade cabinet with the ability to aim left/right and up/down. They function much like joysticks, which maintain a known location on screen at all times and register the current location when fired.
  20. Sea Devil at the Killer List of Videogames
  21. Attack at the Killer List of Videogames
  22. Cross Fire at the Killer List of Videogames
  23. Battle Shark at the Killer List of Videogames
  24. 1 2 Peckham, Matt (September 26, 2006). "DarkStar One". Archived from the original on 17 October 2006. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
  25. 1 2 "Space Interceptor: Project Freedom". MyGamer. November 9, 2004. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
  26. 1 2 Weise, Matt (May 28, 2003). "Freelancer". GameCritics. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
  27. 1 2 LaMosca, Adam (July 18, 2006). "Lost in the Void". The Escapist. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
  28. 1 2 Wen, Howard (February 12, 2008). "What Happened To The Last Starfighters?". The Escapist. Retrieved 2008-06-20.
  29. Tom Senior (7 February 2011). "Volition Would "Commit Murder" to Make Freespace 3". PC Gamer. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  30. Jonathan Drake (24 September 2011). "Nintendo 64: Launching a Legacy". IGN. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  31. Gerry Block (December 18, 2007). "Arcade in a Box Xbox 360 Arcade Stick". IGN. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  32. "Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2, EU-Inside Moves Series, Jeff Van West, Book - Barnes & Noble". Retrieved 2010-08-18.
  33. Cantrell, Paul. "Helicopter Aviation". Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  34. Darleen Hartley (22 May 2009). "Robotics Improves Movement in Kids with Cerebral Palsy". Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  35. Andrew Liszewski (28 April 2012). "If You Don't Find This Video About Robot Wheelchairs for Babies' Heartwarming, You Probably Don't Have a Soul". Gizmodo. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
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