Whatever happened to the joystick?
If you're about my age, you've probably used one of these. Back in junior high we all complained about the standard issue Atari model, but looking back, it was one of the best - maybe not always the most comfortable, but it provided good control for years - until you'd beaten the life out of it, for instance, playing Decathlon, which required you to jerk your stick left and right as fast as possible - for minutes on end.
The joystick may be passe, but it's still bubbling under the surface of our pop culture. This guy hacked one into a TV remote, and this woman made a giant joystick work of art.
Newsweek has a good overview of game control from the Atari era to today. An excerpt, if I may:
*1977: the Atari 2600 controller. One joystick, one button. 2 inputs.
*1980: the Intellivision controller featured a 12-key keypad and two action buttons on each side, and included a “control disc” that essentially functioned as a joystick input. Function overlays were included for most of the games and fit over the keypad. All told, it was 17 inputs.
*1982: the Atari 5200 was the gold standard for the early complexity era. A joystick, a 12-key keypad, four action buttons, plus start, pause, and reset buttons. 20 inputs. Incredibly, this controller had as many inputs as the PS3 controller—twenty-five years sooner.
*1985: the Nintendo Entertainment System reduced the 20 inputs on the Atari 5200 controller to a d-pad, two action buttons, plus select and start buttons. 5 inputs. The NES did, um, pretty well, and the NES controller marked a permanent break from the complexity of only a few years earlier.
*1990: the Super Nintendo controller added a third and fourth button, as well as two shoulder buttons. Both would become standards. 9 inputs total.
*1995: the Sony Playstation controller added a third and fourth shoulder button. They also made each d-pad direction a separate button. 14 inputs total.
*1998: in response to the analog stick of the Nintendo 64 controller, Sony introduced the Dual Shock controller, which featured two analog sticks in addition to all the buttons of the original Playstation controller. The analog sticks were also clickable, thus potentially functioning as two additional buttons. We’re up to 18 inputs now, if you don’t count the "analog" button (which really couldn’t be used as in input in games).
*2006: the Sony PS3 controller, which we’ve already mentioned, had 20 inputs.
For more on sticks, check out Kokatu or just try a Google image search.