Playstation Controller Buttons: Why Symbols Instead of Letters?

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From the Nintendo era onward, the vast majority of video game controllers have named their face buttons after letters in the alphabet — almost always picking from A, B, C, X, Y and Z — with the exception of the Sony Playstation and its progeny.

I never thought to question the Playstation’s combination of square, circle, triangle and X, but the folks at Famitsu magazine did. 1UP relays the magazine’s conversation with Sony designer Teiyu Goto:

We wanted something simple to remember, which is why we went with icons or symbols … I gave each symbol a meaning and a color. The triangle refers to viewpoint; I had it represent one’s head or direction and made it green. Square refers to a piece of paper; I had it represent menus or documents and made it pink. The circle and X represent ‘yes’ or ‘no’ decision-making and I made them red and blue respectively.

(As Kotaku points out, circle’s representation of “yes” is prevalent in Japanese culture, but not in America. Stateside, X is the common decision-making button, because we tend to think of a controller’s bottom button as the main one.)

Anyway, this got me thinking of whether the particulars of button nomenclature really matter. I guess we won’t know for sure until someone tests memorization time for several controllers among a large pool of newcomers. Personally, I’ve committed all controller layouts to memory, but I can’t say the Xbox 360 took more or less time than the Playstation 3. In the heat of an intense gaming moment, I’m more likely to rely on rote memorization than the implied meaning of symbols. (I will say Playstation’s placement of a triangle button on top is rather intuitive, because it looks like an up arrow. Maybe the best button names resemble their orientation.)

Function aside, Playstation’s buttons have arguably been most useful as marketing. The four symbols, when used together, are instantly associated with the Playstation brand. You can’t say that about A, B and C.

This story, "Playstation Controller Buttons: Why Symbols Instead of Letters?" was originally published by Technologizer.

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