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Remember this guy?

What happened to you, D-pad?

Games used to live and die by you, as you offered us the only avenue to control our characters and get them where we wanted them to go.

Now look at you: shrunk in size and demoted to the outermost regions of the controller. You're now responsible for insignificant tasks that really have no profound effect on the game as a whole.

Although it has been occurring for quite a while, I’ve just started noticing the devolution of the D-pad recently. It is no longer the primary way to control characters onscreen; in fact, that is not even an option nowadays. Movement is now controlled by those fancy-schmancy joysticks.

(Yes, I’m completely aware that it is 2011.)

I believe that this shift began with the introduction of the Nintendo 64. The evolution to 3D called for the necessity to move in a three dimensional plane, and the control stick fit the bill. Games such as Super Mario 64 utilized this perfectly. (Not surprisingly, when Super Mario 64 DS was released, critics complained that the D-pad-only scheme and the lack of a control stick hurt the game).  


The function of the D-pad on the N64’s controller was just pathetic. Actually, I should be asking, “What function?” Not one N64 game I’ve played has utilized the D-pad. Not even for navigating menus, for crying out loud.

What's that contraption on the left side of the controller?The D-pad certainly got screwed on the N64. Heck, even the “proper” way to hold the controller leaves the D-pad way out of reach. It actually took me a few years to realize that I was holding it wrong. I had become so accustomed to the Sega Genesis that I held the N64 controller with my hands to the far left and right. When I began to realize that I never actually used the D-pad, I questioned whether or not I was holding it correctly.

Flash forward to now. Excluding downloadable arcade games, the D-pad is no longer used for movement. Instead, it now performs minor actions: In the NBA 2K games, it is used to call up menus for player substitutions, or in LittleBigPlanet, the D-pad allows the player to give their character a different facial expression.

It is a far cry from the glory days of the D-pad.

What does the future hold for this outmoded control? It looks bleak. Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Move contribute to the increasingly fading existence of the D-pad. Also, with the revelation of the Wii U, it’s hard to imagine gamers actually using anything but the touch screen to navigate menus.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not denouncing the evolution of video game control. Evolution is good, and keeps things from getting stale. The D-pad served us well back in the day, but in this day and age, it just doesn’t cut it anymore.

So long, D-pad.  I’m sure your downfall was nothing personal.