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A Famicom controller. The D-pad (cross shape on left) first came to prominence on the controller for the Famicom.
Master System D-pad providing eight-directional buttons

A D-pad (short for directional pad)[a] is a flat, typically thumb-operated, directional control. D-pads are found on nearly all modern gamepads, handheld game consoles, and audiovisual device remote controls. Because they operate using four internal push-buttons (arrayed at 90° angles), the vast majority of D-pads provide discrete, rather than continuous, directional options—typically limited to up, down, left, and right, and sometimes offering intermediate diagonals by means of two-button combinations.

Although D-pads offer less flexibility than analog sticks, they offer high accuracy and can be manipulated with minimal movement by the thumb. They require comparatively little maintenance and their minimal profile makes them ideal for portable devices.

D-pads have appeared on diverse forms of electronic equipment including calculators, PDAs, mobile phones, and car stereos.


A precursor to the D-pad was the four directional buttons used in arcade video games such as Gremlin's Blockade (1976)[1] and SNK's Vanguard (1981).[2] A precursor to the standard D-pad on a video game console was used by the Intellivision, which was released by Mattel Electronics in 1980. The Intellivision's unique controller featured the first alternative to a joystick on a home console, a rotating circular pad that allowed for 16 directions of movement by pressing it with the thumb. A precursor to the D-pad also appeared on Entex's short lived "Select A Game" cartridge based handheld system; it featured non-connected raised left, right, up and down buttons aligned to the left of a row of action buttons. Similar directional buttons were also used on the Atari Game Brain, the unreleased precursor to the Atari 2600, and on some early dedicated game consoles such as the VideoMaster Star Chess game.[3] A controller similar to the D-pad appeared in 1981 on a handheld game system: Cosmic Hunter on Milton Bradley's Microvision; it featured four directional buttons around a fifth button in the center, all under a single rubber membrane.[4]

Nintendo's known "cross" design was developed in 1982 by Gunpei Yokoi for their Donkey Kong handheld game. The design proved to be popular for subsequent Game & Watch titles, although the previously introduced non-connected D-pad style was still utilized on various later Game & Watch titles, including the Super Mario Bros. handheld game. This particular design was patented and later earned a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award.[5][6]

Initially intended to be a compact controller for the Game & Watch handheld games alongside the prior non-connected style pad, Nintendo realized that Yokoi's updated design would also be appropriate for regular consoles, and Nintendo made the D-pad the standard directional control for the hugely successful Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System (first released 1983) under the name "+Control Pad".[7] All major video game consoles since have had a D-pad of some shape on their controllers, until the Nintendo Switch in 2017, which used the older four-button design on its included Joy-Con controller, allowing each Joy-Con to be used as an individual controller for multiplayer games: the optional Switch Pro Controller, and the handheld-only Nintendo Switch Lite, retain the usual D-pad. To avoid infringing on Nintendo's patent, most controller manufacturers use a cross in a circle shape for the D-pad.[8]

In 1984, the Japanese company Epoch created a handheld game system called the Epoch Game Pocket Computer. It featured a D-pad, but it was not popular for its time and soon faded. Following the release of the Sega Mega Drive in 1988, Sega coined the term "D button" to describe the pad, using the term when describing the controllers for the Sega Genesis in instruction manuals and other literature. Arcade games, however, have largely continued using joysticks.

Modern consoles, beginning with the Nintendo 64, provide both a D-pad and a compact thumb-operated analog stick; depending on the game, one type of control may be more appropriate than the other. In many cases with games that use a thumbstick, the D-pad is used as a set of extra buttons, all four usually centered on a kind of task, such as using items. Even without an analog stick, some software uses the D-pad's 8-directional capabilities to act as eight discrete buttons, not related to direction or on-screen movement at all. Jam Sessions for the Nintendo DS, for example, uses the D-pad to select music chords during play.

On non-gaming equipment[edit]

D-pads appear on a number of menu-driven devices as a simple navigational tool; though superficially similar to those used for gaming devices, they are not optimized for real-time control and therefore can usually accept input from only one direction at a time. Many, though not all, such designs include a trigger button in the center of the button arrangement, usually labeled "Enter", "OK", or the like. Some older devices do not have D-pads as such, but simple single-axis, up/down or left/right pads. On some remotes, the D-pad can also be used to control a robot using a signal-compatible receiver.

On remote control devices, the buttons on the D-pad function in the same manner as other buttons, and are generally used to navigate on-screen menus. Though initially not common, the quick success of the DVD format led to wide availability of remote designs with D-pads circa 2000, and most current menu-driven consumer electronics devices include some sort of D-pad on the remote (and, occasionally, on the unit itself).

In addition, many small computing and communications devices, particularly PDAs, mobile phones, and GPS receivers, include D-pads not only for menu navigation but as general input devices similar to a joystick or mouse. Less-sophisticated designs similar to those on remote controls appear on some calculators, particularly scientific and graphing calculators, which use the D-pad for cursor control on multi-line screens, as well as input/output recall, menu navigation, and occasionally direct screen access (graphing calculators in particular allow the use of the D-pad to determine values at specific points on a displayed graph). On programmable units, the D-pad can also be mapped directly, allowing it to be used as a gaming or pointer control.

Consoles with D-pads[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Known as a +Control Pad in Nintendo terminology.


  1. ^ Blockade at the Killer List of Videogames
  2. ^ Matt Barton & Bill Loguidice, The History of Robotron: 2084 - Running Away While Defending Humanoids, Gamasutra
  3. ^ "Videomaster Star Chess". Ultimate Console Database. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  4. ^ Sony's PlayStation Portable and Milton Bradley's Microvision - The PSP and the History of Handheld Video Gaming, Part 2, Niko Silvester, about.com. Accessed on line June 7, 2010.
  5. ^ "Nintendo Wins Emmy For DS And Wii Engineering | Technology | Sky News". News.sky.com. 2008-01-09. Archived from the original on 2012-07-11. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  6. ^ Magrino, Tom (2008-01-08). "CES '08: Nintendo wins second Emmy - News at GameSpot". Gamespot.com. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
  7. ^ "【任天堂「ファミコン」はこうして生まれた】 第7回:業務用機の仕様を家庭用に、LSIの開発から着手" [How the Famicom Was Born – Part 7: Deciding on the Specs]. Nikkei Electronics (in Japanese). Nikkei Business Publications. December 19, 1994. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  8. ^ "The Next Generation 1996 Lexicon A to Z: Joypad". Next Generation. No. 15. Imagine Media. March 1996. p. 35.
  9. ^ "Tiger Playmaker".
  10. ^ "Multiple dome switch assembly having pivotable common actuator".
  11. ^ "Tomy Tron".
  12. ^ "La GamePark GP2X F-200 enfin disponible pour 120€ - Le Journal du Numérique". Journaldunumerique.com. Archived from the original on 2010-07-30. Retrieved 2010-08-30.