Interfacing Digital Joysticks to the PC



Joysticks are quite common among gaming platforms that include PCs, arcade machines, and dedicated game consoles.  There are at least two types of joysticks; analog and digital.  Analog joysticks acquire one of many continuous positions of the "stick" within an XY plane.  In contrast, digital joysticks only detect full left, center, and right for the X-axis, and full up, center, and down for the Y-axis.  There also exist hybrid joysticks that detect the stick position in a coarse grid, such as a 49 way 7 by 7 grid.

Much of the traditional arcade games use digital joysticks.  Though it's possible to use PC analog joysticks to play these games, the playing feel and experience just doesn't match the same experience with real digital joysticks. Serious players of arcade classics such as:

would want to invest in digital joysticks.  Of course, the same is true for fans of the multiple arcade machine emulator.

This article describes the technical details of digital joysticks and how to interface them to the analog PC joystick port.  Other methods to connect joysticks to a PC include using the keyboard interface, parallel interface, and USB ports.

Digital Joystick Types

4 way
8 way

circuit configuration
common ground switches
individual switches, normally open, normally closed


commercial solutions

game pads
keyboard encoder

Analog PC Joystick Interface




Atari to PC joystick adapter (single axis) with center trimmer
Atari to PC joystick adapter (single axis) without center trimmer