The Wrong Place for the Button: An Angry Review of the PS3 Remote

This article currently appears on I know the Sony PS3 remote control has been out for some time now, but I've got a soap box here and I'm going to use it. It's been more than two years since the PlayStation 3 was released, and Sony is still selling dysfunctional remotes.

Okay, so they're not actually dysfunctional. They, uh, "work" just fine. But they're counter-intuitive to the point of uselessness.

Who here watches their television with the lights on? Anyone? Anybody? Nobody? We all watch Blu-Ray movies with the lights off, right? Good. So, we're all in the same position when it comes to the PS3 remote, right? With no light-up LCD buttons, nor glow-in-the-dark screens on the official PS3 Blu-Ray remotes, we have to make a few educated guesses when it comes to controlling our films in the dark.

Which means, dear reader, that you have made the same mistake I've made when it comes to watching your Blu-Ray movies. You've paused the film to get a refill on your Pellegrino, come back to the couch and plopped down, grabbed the remote and pressed "Play" ... only to have your copy of Blade Runner: The Final Cut come to a grinding halt. A few agonizing moments later, your PS3 drops you off at the Xross Media Bar.

You look down at the remote, and realize it wasn't your mistake. It was Sony's.

Years of market research and testing and focus groups have been forcibly ejected from the stadium. Sony wants their system to be different, to be extraordinary. And their remote is going to be no exception. Screw price drops. Screw backwards compatibility. And screw common sense.

Do you know what I'm talking about?

I'm talking about the placement of the Pause Button in relation to the Play Button. I'm talking about the brain-numbing, counter-instinctual road block between them. The giant, arrogant, offensive Stop Button. On the PS3 Blu-Ray remote, this button is nestled between Pause and Play. And on Sony's PS3, this button doesn't just mean "stop playback." No, it means exit. It means discontinue the film. It means, "I'd rather look at the main menu -- not on the disc -- but on my console." I'm surprised the button doesn't shred the disk and eject it into a local landfill.

Think I'm over-reacting? Look at these remotes. Look at them, and see what they have in common.

See where Pause and Play sit? Next to each other. Even on the clunky Xbox 360 remote (designed in defiant, stain-attracting white), Microsoft has the sense to put the buttons next to each other, while Play remains the default central button. Sony's PS3 remote doesn't even have the decency to do just that.

But this isn't the first time Sony has confused stop and start, yes and no, X and O. You know what I'm getting at, reader; I'm getting at the same senseless problem on the Sony Dualshock 3. For the whole of our social lives, we've been trained that X means NO, OFF, or STOP. O means YES, ON, or GO. No one would drink from a bottle marked "X" unless they were thirsty and suicidal. Yet on the PS3 controller, we've become numbly accustomed to X meaning "correct" and O meaning "back."

Now, I know that in Japan these buttons are tethered to more accurate definitions; X means no and O means yes. You can see it in many Japanese-developed games; Final Fantasy games, for example, use O to describe a positive action. Maybe it says something profound about Japanese society that your thumb rests on "no" by default ... but maybe it doesn't. The point isn't about Japanese society, or their thumbs in contrast to ours. It's about my thumb, my couch, and "No" being in-between myself and enjoyment of Sony's Playstation 3. It's about the countless times I've paused a movie when a friend was talking, left my thumb on the remote, and then pushed it up towards Play to begin the film anew ... only to scream in frustration when I arrive back at that watery XMB screen. I'm a gamer. I'm impatient. I can't handle the fifteen seconds it takes to start the film up again.

So, consider this a plea, Sony. A petition without signatures. Fix the buttons, Sony. Fix them. My Samsung Television is in danger of having a remote thrown through it.