You’re enjoying your favorite game and during a particular moment, the entire game controller begins to vibrate in your hands. It might even make it more difficult to make the gestures and perform the actions necessary. You love that feature, but how does it happen?
In two words: Shock motors.
Obviously, there is more to it because those little motors that set your palms tingling don’t just fire away on their own. There is a complex system of steps and processes that occur to make it happen. Let’s consider the mechanical elements first.
As one gamer explained, “There is a motor on either side of the controller. This motor has a weight attached to it that is not even…one side of it has more weight than the other. When the motor spins, the unevenness of the weight causes the controller to vibrate.”
So, that explains how that sensation is created, but what cues those motors to spring to life? That is a bit more scientific than many might like, but to keep it simple, we will turn to the experts at How Stuff Works. They say that the very best game controllers with a shock or vibration function use “force feedback. This feature provides a tactile stimulation to certain actions in a game. For example, in a racing game, you might feel a jarring vibration as your car slams into the wall. Force feedback is actually accomplished through the use of a very common device, a simple electric motor,” or dual motors as we discussed just above. “The shaft of each motor holds an unbalanced weight…” and you know the rest.
The controller will speak to the gaming system and the various pins in the connectors carry the signals that tell the game controller what to do. Key to the vibration function is the “command” pin.
Getting Vibrations from Your Controller
Until now, it was not always easy to find game controllers that vibrated in response to the action in the game, but since late 2019, that has changed. Apple announced it was going to support all game controllers, and that meant that even games on iPad or iPhone would be able to kick out the data that triggered the vibrating feature.
Additionally, many game controller manufacturers began integrating their third-party designs with dual shock motors in the handles of their ergonomically designed units. This opened up the biggest library of games for those using Androids, PCs, Nintendo Switch, PS3, and Apple devices.