Sony patented a 'deformable elastic' controller that heats up in your hands, and I can't say I'm in love with the idea

Game controllers

First reported by Exputer, Sony has published a new controller patent that solves perhaps the greatest problem in gaming: "Controllers used for such purposes as gaming typically include materials that are relatively difficult to deform such as plastics." When I snapped a plastic panel off my DualShock 3 in 2014 after dying to the Belfry Gargoyles in Dark Souls 2 for the 12th time, my issue absolutely was that my controller wasn't "deformable" enough.

The solution, naturally, is "a controller that includes a sensor using an elastically deformable elastic member, and this sensor detects user's contact with or deforming action of the elastic member and outputs an electric signal based on the detected contact or deforming action in question."

Essentially, the patent seems to be proposing that the signature protruding grips of a PlayStation controller be made out of a reshapable elastic material. The document vexingly calls this new feature an "elastic member," and the new construction would theoretically deliver better haptic feedback like controller rumble or… temperature changes?

"The shape or hardness of the portions of the elastic members (grips) changes in response to a process performed by the information processing apparatus such as a game, which makes it possible, for example, to present the material of a virtual object in a game space to the user as a haptic sensation, present the temperature of the virtual object as a warm/cold sense, or the like."

A controller that could get hotter in your hands as you enter a lava level or take fire damage. I don't mean to be a downer, but my hands already get sweaty enough after a long play session. This isn't even the most bewildering proposition included in the patent. Under a section labelled "[Tearing off and Sticking Actions]," the patent reads:

"Actions of separating the elastic member into portions each of which includes at least one circuit section by tearing the portions off or sticking the separated elastic member together and restoring them to the original form (joining) may be made recognizable by providing the plurality of circuit sections in the elastic member. Self-healing materials…may be used as the elastic member described above.

"In this example, the circuit sections in the elastic member may communicate with each other to recognize separation and joining according to a change in distance therebetween."

Unless my eyes deceive me, what I'm seeing described is some sort of destructible, malleable controller made of space age goo that'll get hot in your hands while Geralt's in the tub in The Witcher 3: Next Next-Gen Edition. Everything about this idea strikes me as a solution in search of a problem, reminiscent of PlayStation 3's Sixaxis controls, the rear touchscreen on the Vita, or HD rumble on the Nintendo Switch.

Those controller gimmicks were marketing bullet points at their respective console launches,  but were rarely used after that. Meanwhile, the hallmarks of a genuinely desirable game controller remain simple, unsexy things like build quality, battery life, and ergonomics, while the best controller ever made is still good old granddaddy mouse and keyboard⁠—repurposed office equipment that's been around forever.

See more

Of course, we may never see this thing. Companies can have itchy trigger fingers when it comes to patenting goofy ideas: just take a look at this Nintendo entry for hinged, bendable joycons from 2019, a design that introduced more failure points to a controller attached to a failure point. Sony itself, meanwhile, still holds a patent on the linchpin of the Darkest Timeline: a TV that would force you to verbally interact with it to end commercials

The PC Gamer staff is divided on this one though. My colleague, executive editor Tyler Wilde, insists he would "like to hold the gooey DualShock," while I hope "Goo-al Shock 6" joins those other ideas in the dustbin of history, where the sticky, self-healing goo of its construction will no doubt get riddled with crumbs and lint. 

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.