Have you ever been playing a video game and wondered how pressing a button on the controller in your hand can make the character on screen perform a certain action? Whether it’s the 16 bit glory days of the Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo (SNES) or the advanced powerful machines of today such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, people have been enjoying playing video games for years. The electronic manufacture involved in designing and producing the different controllers over the years has greatly improved as more buttons are included and different input methods are designed. Here’s a look at how video game controllers work and images of old dismantled controllers so you can see the PCB, circuitry and other parts that are contained within the plastic casings of some of our favourite game controllers.
The buttons and sticks on the outside of the controller are what the user presses to make their character jump, kick a ball, fire a gun or accelerate on screen. The microprocessor communicates with the console to turn these instructions into onscreen actions but it’s the communication between the microprocessor and the PCB that lets the processor know which button is being pressed.
Changes to the circuit board are made as the different buttons or control sticks are pressed or moved, which controls the flow of electricity. So when you press the A button on the outside of a controller to make your character jump, the button inside presses a rubber dome switch onto the PCB and completes the circuit, informs the processor which circuits are complete and therefore knows which button has been pressed. To put it simply, the circuits are either open or closed.
So next time you are making Mario jump on a Koopa Troopa or reloading your gun as you prepare to storm a compound in Modern Warefare, now you know how the controller in your hands is telling the onscreen character what to do, and it’s all because of the PCB.