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Today I Learned: PlayStation Controller “Shapes” Are Not Meaningless (But Now They Don’t)


Today I found out is a series where we delve into an interesting or mind-blowing fact from PlayStation history that, as the title suggests, we didn’t know about until today.

The iconic PlayStation DualShock button ‘shapes’ have been a staple of every PS controller since 1994, becoming synonymous with the Sony video game brand. The triangle, circle, square and cross (or “X”) buttons have featured on every PlayStation console from the original to the PS5, but while these shapes may seem like just a way for Sony to distance themselves from their competitors and their letter buttons, there was an interesting design behind the choice. thought process.

According to Sony engineer Tei Gott, each of the PlayStation’s shapes has its own meaning. In a 2020 interview with the defunct 1up (via Gizmodo), he explained:

Other game companies of the time assigned letters of the alphabet or colors to the buttons. We wanted something easy to remember, so we used icons or symbols, and right after that I came up with the triangle-circle-X-square combination. I have given meaning and color to each symbol. A triangle refers to a point of view; I had it represent the head or direction and made it green. A square refers to a sheet of paper; I had it represent menus or documents and made it pink. The circle and X represent yes or no decisions and I made them red and blue respectively. People thought the colors were mixed up and I had to confirm with management that I wanted it.

For many of the original PlayStation games, these differences made sense; games like Metal Gear Solid used a circle or O to confirm and a cross or X to cancel. While the West has been steadily changing these inputs, Japan has kept them the same until the PS5.

How PlayStation “forms” changed their meaning

Metal Gear Solid confused many Western gamers with its “switched” X and O buttons.

In a controversial move, Sony has decided to throw away years of muscle memory from its Japanese audience by making the X button for confirm and the O for cancel on PS5 games released in the region. In Japan, batsu means a cross (X), which people use to indicate that something is wrong, and maru means a circle (O), which means that something is right. So the meaning of the X and O buttons made more sense in Japan than in the West, where X is usually used synonymously with a check mark.

Similarly, the button’s square and triangle have moved far beyond their original meaning. The square was originally used to represent a document or menu, but is now mainly used as an “interact” button; tapping usually reloads a gun, uses an item, or interacts with something in the world. Back in the formative years of 3D gaming, Sony couldn’t have known that first-person shooters and action-adventure games would become so popular in the industry, and that this would make an all-encompassing interaction button more valuable than a menu button.

Meanwhile, the original purpose of the triangle button is almost completely obsolete. Originally, it was often used to re-center the camera on the player, which was vital when analog stick controllers weren’t common in console games. However, this feature has steadily become useless over time – nowadays it’s more likely to help the player change weapons or items and has absolutely nothing to do with their point of view.

Did you know this PlayStation fact, or is it a “Today I Learned” moment for you, just like us? Let us know in the comments below.

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