The GameCube controller’s A button subtly taught us how to play

In today’s digital age, it can sometimes feel like hardware has taken a back seat to the software that drives devices. Button of the Month is a new column that will look at some of these buttons and switches on devices both old and new to appreciate how we interact with our devices on a physical, tactile level.

There has never been a controller quite like the one for Nintendo’s GameCube. An asymmetrical, colorful mash of shapes and buttons, the GameCube controller threw caution (and years of conventional logic on how to build a video game controller) to the wind, resulting in a bizarre looking creation that somehow all came together to work.

But the key to it working, at least for me, is the giant, oversized A button that dominated the right side of the controller. If you’ve ever seen a GameCube controller, it’s more or less the defining feature, with its huge, glossy surface that demands your attention. Like most Nintendo products, the plastic on the GameCube is of the best kind, that seems more or less indestructible to the user and never gets too grungy or gross, even after the umpteenth hour of Smash Bros.

Unlike most controllers, where the face buttons are given roughly equal placement, the Gamecube’s A button is planted squarely in the middle, a giant green star that the other, smaller buttons seem to orbit around.

It lives directly in the center of the right wing of the controller, exactly where your right thumb rests, just as the joystick rests in the middle of the left side. From the moment you pick up a GameCube controller, Nintendo is teaching you the simple control scheme that is the core of video games: this side moves, and this side interacts — to shoot, to jump, to swing a sword, to pick up an item, to talk to someone.

Even the physical design lends itself to this — the A button is big, bold, and green. “Go ahead!” it practically shouts “Go forward! Go!” There’s a B button to go back, of course, but it’s a small thing, stuck away in a corner. You might need it, sure, but you’ll have to hunt and reach for it before you can.

Now, obviously, you’ll need more than just an A button to play most GameCube games, and that ideal of move and jump only holds up for the most basic of titles. And the odd design of the GameCube controller would ultimately be short-lived, with Nintendo going down a different road entirely for the Wii with the iconic remote, and then returning to traditional cross-shaped face buttons on the Wii U and the Switch.

But for one glorious console generation, the GameCube’s A button ruled supreme. Press A to start, indeed.