Joysticks trace their roots to a short-lived game console released in 1976 by Fairchild Camera & Instrument Co. called the Video Entertainment System. The VES was controlled by a hard-wired pistol grip with a plunger-style button on the top that could be rotated, twisted or pressed. To Leonard Herman, author of "Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames," the Fairchild joystick looked more like a bomb detonator than a kids' toy.
In 1977, Atari borrowed the term "joystick" from the aviation world when it unveiled its Video Computer System. Earlier Atari Pong games didn't have joystick-style controllers, since Pong didn't need much controlling. But new games needed a cursor that could be moved in any direction. Other manufacturers took notice, and within a few years, a half-dozen systems hit the market with the joystick as their primary controller. The first generation of home computers from Commodore, Radio Shack, Atari and Apple was designed to accept joysticks, too.
Unfortunately, the IBM personal computer wasn't designed with games in mind, and it took a while before the industry standardized on a system that incorporated a joystick port into the computer's sound card. Serious gamers used separate expansion cards designed strictly for games, which often led to conflicts. Those problems have largely disappeared with the advent of the plug-and-play joystick, which connects through the PC's Universal Serial Bus port.
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