How do you hold a controller?

(Image credit: Reddit)

Sure, mouse-and-keyboard is the one true way to play an FPS, but sometimes when you're playing a platformer or a racing game or a fighter or Overcooked with people who are about to stop being your friends, you might bust out the controller. 

Are you familiar with The Claw? It's top-left in the image above we shamelessly ganked from the internet, and it's a real way some people play games where the right-thumbstick controls the camera so they don't have to lose control of it when they press buttons to make stuff happen. The next two images are also real ways people hold controllers, although bottom-right is a joke, please don't try it at home.

Our weekend question is: How do you hold a controller? And is every other way of doing it a horrendous fingertwisting monstrosity you wish you could unsee? Here are our answers, plus a few from our forum

Steven Messner: Never has 75 percent of an image caused me so much pain.

Phil Savage: What even is this?

I hold my controller the normal way—the way a person holding an ergonomically designed device is supposed to. I refuse to believe there are people who have their index finger hovering over the face buttons at all times, let alone have it stretched awkwardly over to the right analogue stick. What's the point of that? Games are mapped specifically to avoid you having to contorting your hands into some horrible, twisted bird claw. That's why most games that rely heavily on face buttons have autotargeting, so you can just use your thumb as the gods intended without having to simultaneously control the camera. Are people really doing this to themselves? Why? Somebody let them know they can stop.

Lauren Morton: I'm sorry but the only fingers I can expect any true manual dexterity out of are my thumbs and index fingers. The rest are unreliable and should not be involved in anything but gripping. Obviously the top right is most natural—the way happy people in commercials hold their controllers. Bottom left is possibly tolerable. Perhaps that's how you claw mouse holders use a controller. I see the appeal of having fingers on both the triggers and bumpers simultaneously but I simply cannot trust my middle fingers with trigger duty. I am ignoring the other two images because they are immensely upsetting. Okay wait, I'd understand if either of those grips were preferable to disabled folks, but I'm pretty sure those are just abled people contorting their fingers in unfathomable ways.

Alan Dexter: I hold a joypad the way any PC gamer should, by placing it in a drawer and pretending such things simply don't exist. Keyboard and mouse for life.

(Image credit: ROCCAT)

Emma Matthews: I've never really put much thought into how I hold my controller so these other options are interesting. I tend to replicate the top-right image most of the time, but it really depends on the game. I change my grip when playing Dark Souls to run and adjust the camera at the same time (top-left). I've done that for so many hours that it just feels natural now even though it looks really awkward. If we're talking about playing any type of shooter, I'm with Alan. Keyboard and mouse forever.

Christopher Livingston: I hold my controller the regular way as shown in the one correct image I don't even need to point out by number. But who cares about me, I'm dying to hear how Wes, He Who WASDs Weirdly, holds his controller. It's gotta be weird.

Wes Fenlon: I'm relieved to say that I don't do any kind of freaky controller grip. I hold my controller like a totally normal person! Thumbs on the thumbsticks, right thumb on the face buttons when not using it to aim, index fingers on the triggers. But I don't want to disappoint Chris, so I'll show you how I held a Nintendo 64 controller as a kid. It's... pretty weird.

Before getting an N64 I'd mostly played games on the PC and the Sega Genesis. Maybe it was my experience with the mouse or the PC joystick I used in some games, I don't know, but for some reason I thought it made sense to use my whole left hand to control the N64's analog stick. In my defense:

  • The analog stick was a brand new thing with the N64 controller
  • The shape of that controller was fucking nonsense
  • There were like 5 different ways to hold that controller and they all sucked

My grip method here posed one significant problem, which was pressing the Z trigger on the bottom of the controller. I would press Z with my index fingers, while my thumbs handled the A/B/C buttons and my pointer finger stayed on R. I don't remember how I used L or the D-Pad, but I probably modified my grip somehow for games that needed those buttons. Anyway, I kicked plenty of ass at Mario Kart 64, Goldeneye and The World is Not Enough, my big multiplayer games, so I guess it didn't hold me back too much.

(Image credit: Wes Fenlon)

From our forum

Inspireless Llama: I'm using an Xbox One controller.

When holding it, I'll have fingers on the triggers, my left thumb on the joystick, and the right thumb over both the X and the A button.

Johnway: I've always used the straightforward controller method. Part of the reason is that i have an xbox360 controller. Admittedly i haven't tried the other grips with it probably because I've not needed to. Put me in front of a beat-em-up or a competitive environment and i might change my tune very quickly.

Bierbarbaar: I never really thought about it, but apparantly I hold my thumbs on the sticks, middlefingers on the triggers and indexfingers on the R & L buttons.

FreezerBurn: If I have to use a controller, I go with the claw.

Hveðrungr: When gaming, I tend to use two controllers simultaneously. Both lay flat on my desk. One is static (partly because it is very long) and I tap the buttons with my left hand. The other is mobile and I guide it with my right hand, pressing its buttons with my fingers.

A major advantage of my controller set-up is that it is easy to use them for non-gaming purposes too. For example, for sending text I can just use the left controller, pressing the buttons with the fingers of both hands to speed up my inputs. And for many other computing purposes I can just use the right controller, leaving one hand free to grab a drink or a sandwich.

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.