In the magazine business, the Back Page is where you’d find all the weird goofs that we couldn’t fit in anywhere else. Some may call it “filler”; we prefer “a whole page to make terrible jokes that are tangentially related to the content of the mag”.
We don’t have (paper) pages on the internet, but we still love terrible jokes — so welcome to our semi-regular feature, Back Page. Today, Kate muses on what your favourite button on the Joy-Con means about who you are as a person…
As I write this, it’s a Friday afternoon, nothing much is going on in the world of video game news, and I’m feeling like I want to start an entirely meaningless fight.
So, I ask you, dear readers: Which button on the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller and/or Joy-Con is the best one? You may not think you have an opinion… But hopefully I can convince you otherwise, and also tell you what your personal favourite says about you.
Press any button to continue.
The A Button
Oh, she’s a classic. Everyone loves the A button, and it’s not exactly surprising: She is action, she is movement, she is agency. She examines everything, perceiving every minute detail. She is the connection to others, the “yes, and” in a conversation, the tender hand reaching out to form bonds with others. She is the main character. She is you.
However, with a button that is basically the Beyoncé (A-yoncé?) of the controller world, there’s plenty to dislike, too. I mean, let’s talk about that placement — sure, Nintendo pioneered the A-on-the-right style, while Xbox and PlayStation moved it down to the bottom, but that doesn’t mean they should stubbornly stick to it. The way we naturally hold controllers places our thumbs over the bottom button on the right, so it really should be the most-used button and not the button that exits things. I’m just sayin’.
If your favourite button is the A button, that’s okay — it doesn’t make you boring or vain. It just means that you like to go with the flow, to take the path of least resistance. You’re most likely an easy-going, likeable person, even if you aren’t particularly unique, but again, that’s fine. The world needs main characters.
The B Button
The foil to the A button, B is all about negating, refusing, evading, and retreating. It is the cautious button, the “perhaps I didn’t get all the treasures in this area” button, the one that checks their pockets every time they leave the house just in case they forgot their keys. Saying “no” to things all the time can be a sign of anxiety or doubt, but oftentimes it is a sign of wisdom, too: The wisdom to know that you can never be certain of anything.
But again, why is the B button at the bottom? Surely, surely it should be on the right. Perhaps Nintendo’s insistence that B is the most prominent of the face buttons says something about their business strategy: To always be over-cautious, to never rush into things, and to stick to the safest options. I’m sure I could write an entire over-wrought essay about it, although I probably shouldn’t.
If your pick of the buttons is the B button, you might be a contrarian, always playing devil’s advocate in conversations, but you could also just be a gentle soul who is always willing to gather more evidence before making decisions. Perhaps you could learn a lesson from the happy-go-lucky A button, or perhaps they should take a page out of your book instead.
The Y Button
An underrated gem, the Y button is as far from A as you can alphabetically get on a modern Switch controller (if you’re not counting the triggers as Z buttons, I guess). That doesn’t mean much, of course, it’s just a fun fact. The Y button is a jack-of-all-trades, a “use item!” button for things that are not quite as important as, say, running, jumping, and talking.
In massive RPGs, Y will often give you access to specific tools, like bug nets, guns, and what have you — but in smaller games with fewer things to do, Y is often relegated to simpler duties, like opening menus and maps. A and B have strong identities, but Y’s brand is a little harder to nail down.
Which makes you, dear Y-enjoyer, a bit of a people-pleaser. You’re willing to be whatever you think people want you to be, or whatever suits the mood best, which means that you perhaps don’t have a super-strong idea of who you are. Don’t do yourself a disservice — you’re capable of great things, a variety of things, more nuanced things than the As and Bs of the world. That’s your strength!
The X Button
X gets lumped in with Y a lot, and that’s understandable — they’re often interchangeable in terms of whether they’re used for maps or tools or whatever. But X is at the very top, supplanted only by the plus button, which is far more low-key. X is king of the face buttons, even if he doesn’t have the most to do, or the most to say… and of all the buttons, he’s the only one that appears on all three major platforms’ controllers. He is the patient one, the uniter, the peace-maker. He also, let’s face it, looks the coolest.
But what does he do? If you were challenged at gunpoint to sum up the X button in three words, you might struggle (and also ask why someone is asking you this question at gunpoint). Is it a crime to be the middle ground, the in-between, the one button that brings everyone together? No, but it’s a bit wishy-washy, isn’t it? Pick a side, pal.
If your pick is the X button, perhaps you’re the person who is quite content to sit on the fence, or to be the diplomat. You enjoy finding common ground, and you don’t really understand the point in picking a side if it inconveniences you, and upsets everyone else. I agree with you. If only we could all be a little more like the X button.
Apologies if you actually have a favourite direction, but I’m not getting that far into the weeds with this. The D-Pad is arguably the most old-fashioned of the controller inputs, having been a part of the layout since very early on with almost no additions. Everything else has matured, moved, and even improved, but the D-Pad was perfect from the start, just as he was. I picture him as an old, wise man, separated from the petty squabbles of the younger generations, standing on his own with nothing to prove. He pulls double duty, as a place where you can often pull out your quick-select items, tools, and weapons, and as a tool himself for navigating complex menus, when the control sticks are just too dang wiggly to get the job done right.
The sad thing is that, much like an elderly gentleman, he’s been replaced — by the control sticks, which are capable of a much higher fidelity of movement than Old Man D-Pad. Although he has his uses, he’s a relic of a former time, when four directions were all we had.
Devotees of the D-Pad are, perhaps, of the older generations themselves. Driven by nostalgia and fond memories, they seek mementos of a simpler time, a time before the third dimension made everything complicated, and before controllers looked like a cockpit full of buttons. When all you have is up, down, left, right, B, A, and Start, you might think that the world is a lot easier to manage — but great things can be born out of simplicity. Like the Konami Code.
The Plus Button
It’s like a tiny D-Pad! One of the new additions to the Switch controllers is the plus button, although arguably she was present on the Wii and Wii U as well — but this incarnation of the tiny plus is quite beautiful. She’s not a button, as much as she is a Shape That Does Things. Out of all of the pressable items on the controller, the plus is the most stylish, for sure: She stands out amongst all the circles, blazing her own path, a symbol of a new era in games, represented by an age-old mathematical expression. She is simplicity and elegance; where the D-Pad represents stability and dependability, the plus button — who is the same shape — represents newness, change, and addition.
Of course, she’s also not really any of that. To be fair to Nintendo, there aren’t really that many shapes left to explore that haven’t already been nicked by Sony; their use of plus and minus as the Switch’s new buttons is novel, but perhaps forced by lack of options. But “plus” doesn’t add anything, it just opens a menu. Then again, B doesn’t summon hordes of bees, and X doesn’t make your former girlfriend come over and tell you all the reasons you suck, so literalism isn’t necessarily the goal.
You like the plus button? Of course you do! It’s dinky and cute. It’s also the newest thing on the Joy-Con, really. So you like novelty, you like intrigue, and you perhaps enjoy something a little different than what’s come before. Also, maybe you’re a positive person, but again, that’s leaning a little too far into the literal.
The Minus Button
Much like Pokémon games, everything has two sides. Black, White. Red, Blue, Sword, Shield. Plus, Minus. The minus button is the inversion of the plus, of course, and represents the left Joy-Con just as the plus represents the right. It is the mirror, the negative of plus, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or sinister — it is just that the world needs order, or else it is chaos. Where the plus button opens the big menus — it’s basically the Start button, the one that pauses the game — the minus button often opens the in-game menus, like a map, or a collection, or something like that. If plus is Captain Picard, minus is the Riker: The second-in-command who pulls more weight than people realise.
But what a boring button design. Plus is interesting, mysterious, and elegant; minus is just a line. It’s also bloody hard to press because it’s so tiny! There’s a reason buttons are usually round, and the minus button is the proof: Thumbs abhor a simple line. It doesn’t feel like a Thing To Press, it feels like a little roadbump for your fingers.
If you are a fan of the minus button, then you are a curious one. Perhaps you are the type of person who would be the tall glasses-wearing sidekick in a shonen anime, the one who reins in the impulses of the other chaotic characters with your sensible approach to things. Or perhaps you’re simply the quiet kid who’s actually way more fun than people realise. You’re an enigma, pal!
The Home Button
Cosy, safe, and always a fallback if everything starts to go wrong, the home button does what it says: It takes you home. Well, “home” in the sense that consoles understand it, anyway: Back to the safety of the game selection screen. You might be tempted to see the home button as an abstraction of the B button, purely because it takes you “back”, but the important distinction is that “home” is not the same as “back”. You can go back into battle, or back into the fray; home is something different, something more primal and secure. And home will never change. Also, it lights up! It’s the only button that lights up!!
My main issue with the home button is that it has secret functionality that it took me years to notice. Hold down the button, and you’ll get a special mini-menu that offers sleep mode, brightness and volume controls, and airplane mode. Volume and power are also accessible as physical buttons at the top of the console, but if you’re playing docked, they’re harder to use. Is this an actual secret menu, or did I just skip reading the manual? I’ll never tell!!
If the home button is your favourite, it’s tempting to say that you’re always seeking some sort of comfort zone — and the exact thing you’re seeking is not a place, but a time. You can’t go back to childhood — it’ll always be a feeling just out of reach. But I also think you’re probably the kind of person that makes others feel safe, like the friend who always has a first-aid kit in their bag, or always bakes cookies. You’ve got big Mum energy, y’know? It’s a good thing.
The Capture/Screenshot Button
What I like about Nintendo’s screenshot button on the Switch is that it’s incredibly simple. It doesn’t ask if you would like to send the screenshot to Twitter, or Facebook, or your mum; it simply takes a screenshot. It doesn’t even have a picture on it, like it does on the Xbox and PlayStation controllers. It’s just a little circle. Sure, that means it’s not particularly easy to figure out what it does just from a glance, but I can’t say I particularly mind, because experimenting with the Nintendo Switch controller buttons is never a punishing thing — the worst that can happen is that you pause the game or take a bad screenshot.
However, it’s not a very clicky button. Most of the Switch controller’s pressable zones are hefty, tactile things; the screenshot button, in comparison, is a whisper of an input. Maybe you like that, though.
Those who prefer the screenshot button are likely photographers, or at the very least, the kinds of people who appreciate the quieter things in life — a cup of tea on a rainy day, or a deep intake of breath by the seaside.
Unafraid to be the widest of the buttons, the left and right bumpers are a very cosy place to rest your tired gamer fingies. Over the years, controllers have become more ergonomic, and the bumpers are a large part of that, being shaped almost perfectly like your own fingers, long and curved. They often take over from the D-Pad in terms of navigation, because it’s a lot easier to bumper left and right than to scoot your thumb over to the D-Pad. That’s a nice consideration.
What can I say that’s bad about the bumpers? I’ll tell you. They used to be better. You might disagree with me here, but bumpers peaked on the GameCube controller. Those lovely, supremely clicky, curved buttons that you could socket your fingers right into. Lovely stuff. Now, they’re low-profile, quiet things, which is probably better for a bunch of reasons, but I don’t like it as much.
What does it mean if you love the bumpers? Good question. You are a person who has fingers, and you like to be comfortable. I’m sorry! I can’t come up with clever stuff for everything!
Who doesn’t love the triggers? Most of us will probably never fire a gun, but having triggers on a controller that lets us fire guns is the next best thing. They’re the only button that functions as more of a hinge than a press, and although Nintendo’s trigger offering is a lot less triggery than the Xbox and PlayStation triggers (the Xbox One controller, in particular, is very triggery, and I love it), there’s not much to complain about. They get the job done, and that job is shoot.
Now, having said “there’s not much to complain about”, I do feel like complaining a little. As I’ve mentioned, Xbox has the trigger perfected: It’s huge, and far more hingey than the Switch’s. This is probably by design: If you’re playing a ton of first-person shooters, it’s more likely to be on the Xbox than the Switch, so I don’t doubt that Nintendo wanted to distance themselves from actual guns. Fine. Whatever. I guess it’s also the “swing weapon button”.
Trigger-likers are the kinds of people who love action movies, unsurprisingly. You’re very “shoot/swing first, ask questions later”. You probably prefer games that don’t weigh you down with cutscenes and motivation, because you already have motivation for killing hordes of enemies, and that motivation is “it’s fun”. You know what you want, and you know how to get it (pressing the triggers). Pew pew.
I’m grouping these together because otherwise this goofy article would take me all day, but let’s be honest: L3 and R3 (the clickable analog sticks) are the unsung heroes of many games. L3 is often things like the Witcher Sense, the pulse of detective energy that lets you see nearby objectives and secrets; R3 is often the workhorse of the controller layout that represents every gamer’s favourite input: Sprinting.
But let’s be even more honest: These are not good buttons, and they should never have been. The fact that they are clickable is a testament to how over-engineered gaming has become. Are the four face buttons not enough? The bumpers, the triggers, the D-Pad? Why did we need two extra inputs, and why on earth did you put them underneath the control sticks? Although they are pretty fun to click, L3 and R3 are the controller equivalent of that terrible little mouse-nub that you could find on old laptops: Trying to do too much, and failing.
If you are a fan of the L3/R3 buttons, you’re not wrong. It’s a niche choice, and I respect that. Plus, they are perhaps the most pleasantly clicky thing on a Switch controller, so you have good tactile taste. But you might just be picking these to be different. Hey, that’s okay. Own it.
The Power Button
You forgot that the power button existed, didn’t you? I don’t blame you — on non-OLED Switches, it’s pretty hard to see, and to press. It’s almost like Nintendo don’t want you to stop playing, which is a far cry from all the times they used the 3DS to tell us to go outside and take a break (no). But the Switch could not exist without this power button: It’s a fantastic representation of the Switch’s hybrid capabilities. Just one boop of the power button, and your Switch is asleep, ready to be taken on adventures. You don’t use the power button at all when you’re in docked mode, so it pretty much only exists for this purpose. So much potential in one little circle!
But, as I’ve mentioned, it’s bloody tiny! It’s not far off those Reset buttons you get on old electronics that are specifically recessed so you can only hit them with a paperclip, making sure that you can’t accidentally press it. Why? Why did Nintendo do this? Anyone with a finger larger than a ballpoint pen in circumference is going to struggle to hit this one.
For fans of the power button, it’s all or nothing. Your world deals only in absolutes. You hate all that wibbly-wobbly in-betweeny stuff, and think everyone should just pick a side and stick to it. However, you also probably really enjoy the simple things in life, like the mere fact that your favourite console is functioning. Good for you.
The Sync Button
Well, I guess this is a button. And perhaps it does have its fans. The sync button is a tiny, nondescript nubbin hidden away on the inside of the Joy-Con and the top of the Pro Controller, and it exists to help you sync up the controllers with the Switch. It’s useful, because without syncing, you can’t use your controllers (although Joy-Cons can be synced by docking them, too).
But it’s a bit boring, isn’t it? All those buttons, and you want to pick this one? Not to mention that it’s even harder to press than the power button, thanks to its teeny-tiny profile and the fact that it’s flush with the rest of the controller.
I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that this is no one’s favourite, but on the off chance it’s yours, then you’re probably someone with tastes so peculiar and specific that you’re only able to see movies you like in one single cinema in the middle of an obscure Eastern European country at 3am. Nothing wrong with that, but are you okay??
Looking for more arbitrary decisions about your personality based on video game nonsense? Check out “What’s Your Pokéshape Star Sign?” for more of the same, or have a look at our other Back Page writings if you’re down for more weird stuff written by our finest writers.
Tell me your burning button thoughts, hot takes, and pressing concerns in the comments. I know you have them. If I can write, let’s see… 3,500 words on the topic, then you can write a hundred or so, right? What do you mean, I’m being paid for it? I’m just someone who broke into the NL office to rant about buttons, I dunno what you’re talking about.