Why are video game and computer joysticks of the seventies and early eighties right-handed (eg. Atari 2600, Odyssey 2, Apple II), and game pads, since Nintendo Entertainment System to today, all left-handed?

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    Possibly an interesting counterpoint: the Atari Lynx. It can be played either way up — joypad on the left or joypad on the right. But the joypad on the right is always referred to as being for left-handed people; the joypad in its normal position on the left is considered to be the default for right-handed people. So I'm not sure it's universally accepted that the NES arrangement is "left handed".
    – Tommy
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


I asked the same question over at UX: https://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/57630/why-are-most-game-controllers-left-handed

Lots of speculation but no real answers.

Larry Bundy claims the change was made to make arcade games more difficult, and thus increase revenue by making it harder for players to master each game. He doesn't offer any evidence or citations though.

It seems that there is no good answer for this. The earliest examples of left handed controls I can find are arcade machines and the Nintendo Game & Watch, but it's hard to know if they were the first.

Arguments claiming that more dexterity is required for operating buttons don't hold up - the original Famicom had only two buttons, not exactly a challenge to use.

I've started building my own right handed controllers and can confirm that they are much, much easier to use and give me a significant edge. I am right handed.

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    I got the sense as a player that it was to make the games harder; Donkey Kong is the first game I remember with a left-handed joystick, and that's pretty typical of how Nintendo does things.
    – Almo
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 19:10

A gamepad is not ergonomically the same as a joystick.

A joystick's stick is normally operated with the dominant hand, while the other hand holds the body (where it can operate the fire button). Since most people are right-handed they prefer the stick on the right.

A gamepad is held by both hands, so it doesn't matter which side has what buttons. However since the direction controls are usually held down more than the fire button, having them on the left means that it is held more in the left hand - just like a joystick.

And of course there were exceptions. Some joysticks had buttons on both sides or in the middle, others on the top of the stick. I have a Mindscape Powerplay which is held from below by a handle. Even though I am right-handed, I prefer to hold it in my right hand and operate the stick with my left hand.

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    The Mindscape PowerPlay is a great joystick.
    – Tim Locke
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 13:59
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    I could never get on with those fire-button-on-top sticks; it was always very unnatural for me to hold the stick with my entire hand rather than applying the more arcade-like two fingers and a thumb down at the bottom.
    – Tommy
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 15:19

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