PlayStation 4 Controller Buttons - Cover Image

PlayStation 4 Controller Buttons – A Beginner’s Guide

The official PlayStation 4 controller is also known as the Dualshock 4 (DS4) controller.

I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say the PS4 controller is excellent. Both in terms of its aesthetic design and how comfortable it is when being used for long periods.

With that said, it can seem pretty daunting to use this controller at first. Thinking about how to interact with all the different types of games out there can seem impossible to do, but in reality, once you get familiar with the basics and start playing games more regularly you’ll find it a breeze.

In this guide, I’ll be showing you in detail how each of the PlayStation 4 controller buttons works as well as the whole host of other features built into the controller. We’ll also take a look at how to connect your PlayStation 4 controller to your console, and finally, we’ll cover some common troubleshooting issues and how to fix them.

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PlayStation 4 Controller Buttons Explained

At first glance, the PlayStation 4 controller can seem quite daunting to use, especially to a new gamer.

Once you get used to the PlayStation 4 controller buttons and how each part of the controller functions you will be able to easily interact with your PS4 console and play any game with ease.

Below you will find a diagram that lays out all of the buttons and controls of the PlayStation 4 controller.

Take some time to examine this diagram and below that, you will find a more detailed explanation of each of the buttons.

Playstation 4 controller diagram 1
Playstation 4 controller diagram 2

1. Directional Buttons (Up, Down, Left, Right)

These buttons are often collectively referred to as the D-Pad.

In the days before the analog sticks (mentioned below) these were used in video games to control the movement of your character, navigate through menus, and control the direction of actions just for example.

So essentially these were used to carry out the majority of movement and navigation tasks required in games.

This is much less common in more modern games as you’ll quickly find. However, these buttons in some cases still function as directional controls and can be interchanged with the analog sticks, though it’s quite rare.

A more common use for these buttons in games today is a way to navigate through menus such as inventory management systems in games.

For example, in Dragon Ball Xenoverse, the directional buttons are used in the following ways:

  • Pressing the D-pad Up – Display Quest Info
  • D-pad Right – Display Item List
  • Pressing the D-pad Down – Display Chat Window
  • D-pad Left – Display Scouter

The d-pad acts as a way of displaying menu options without opening up a big massive menu that takes you out of the gameplay experience.

Dragon Ball Xenoverse

2. Analog Sticks

These controls are referred to as the left and right analog sticks.

As mentioned above, these controls have replaced the use of the D-pad and have greatly improved a gamer’s ability to control characters and even to manipulate the camera in a game.

The most common convention in games for using these controls is:

  • The left analog stick is used to control the character (forward, backward, left, and right).
  • The right analog stick is used to manipulate or rotate the camera direction which allows you to improve how much you can see in a game.

This is not the case with all types of games though. For instance, side-scrolling type games, like Shovel Knight, do not allow for camera control so you do not need to use the right analog stick at all.

3. Square, Triangle, X, Circle

These are the main buttons that you will use on the controller to interact with the game you are playing.

Based on the type of game and who made it, you can use these buttons to interact with characters and other objects, jump with your character, fire weapons, or even interact with a menu.

The conventions for what these buttons do in each game are different. This is why I highly recommend reading through the controls menu in any game to get familiar with how things work.

Luckily most modern games do an excellent job of walking you through the control scheme during the tutorial section.

MediEvil

4. L1, R1 – Shoulder Buttons

These buttons are often referred to as the shoulder buttons. In some shooter type games, these can be used to fire weapons (though this is more commonly done with the Trigger buttons – L2, R2).

In other games, these buttons can also be used in addition to the face buttons (x, square, triangle, circle) to interact with objects in the game.

5. L2, R2 – Trigger Buttons

These buttons are referred to as the trigger buttons. The majority of modern games that require aiming and firing a weapon will use these buttons to do so.

The common convention for these games is to press L2, aim with the right analog stick, and press R2 to fire.

Though this does vary depending on the game, you’ll find that this is a very prevalent control scheme across shooters.

Call of Duty - Modern Warfare

6. L3, R3 – Press The Analog Sticks

As a new PlayStation gamer, you may not even know that these buttons exist. I definitely didn’t until a game required I press R3 and I had to Google what the heck to do!

These “buttons” are selected by pressing down on the left or right analog sticks.

You’ll know you’ve done this correctly as you’ll hear a click sound.

These controls are used more commonly in games than you might think. It’s used pretty often in Doom to interact with objects in the game.

Doom - PlayStation 4 Controller Buttons

7. Share Button

The Dualshock 4 controller is the first PlayStation controller to incorporate social sharing features right onto the controllers.

Pressing the Share button will bring up the sharing dialog menu where you can do a lot like capture a screenshot. If you want to learn more about some of the features of the share button, why not check out this article I wrote:

How To Easily Take A Screenshot On Your PS4

8. Options Button

The options button is basically the Start or Pause button if you remember older controllers.

This will most likely bring up the pause menu when pressed where you can save the game or adjust settings.

Dragon Ball Xenoverse - Pause Menu

9. TouchPad

The touchpad was a unique feature of the PS4 controller when it initially released.

With compatible games, it allowed you to manipulate certain things in the game by interacting with the touchpad.

A great example of this feature in action can be seen in Concrete Genie.

In this game, you use the touchpad to control a paintbrush which is very effective.

The use of the touchpad outside of this is pretty rare and is usually just confined to interacting with the display keyboard when that appears. This allows you to quickly type in usernames etc.

Concrete Genie

A Note About Control Schemes In Games

While there are some common conventions for controls in games, variations can occur between different types of games.

Certain genres of games, for example, may use the controls in different ways to achieve different results.

When starting a new game for the first time, it can be useful to look at the control scheme which can most often be found in the pause or settings menu of the game.

With that said, almost all games now offer tutorials at the beginning to introduce you to the game’s mechanics and how the controls work.

Some games can do this to great effect by gradually introducing you to the control scheme as you start playing. Concrete Genie is an excellent example of this in action.


Other PlayStation 4 Controller Buttons

As well as just the buttons we talked about, the Dualshock 4 controller has many other great features built right into it.

We’ll take a look at these interesting features below in more detail.

Light Bar

The Dualshock 4 controller features an LED light. Other than serving as a pleasant visual for the controller, this light bar can serve a few purposes in games.

For example, the color of the light can be used to display which player you are in a multiplayer game:

  • Firstly, Player 1’s controller is blue
  • Player 2’s controller is red
  • Player 3 is green
  • And finally, Player 4’s controller is pink

In other games, this light bar can serve as a health indicator. As your health decreases, the light bar changes color and will usually turn red when you die. This feature can be seen in action in Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy.

Built-in Speaker

You may not realize it, but the Dualshock 4 controller contains a built-in speaker.

This came as a total shock to me as I was playing Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 and the character’s voices started coming out of the controller.

Some games like the one mentioned above, make use of this to create a more immersive gaming experience by having certain in-game sounds come from the controller.

Headphone Jack

To listen to your game through headphones, simply plug in a pair of compatible headphones into the controller via the headphone jack.

This can create a more immersive experience; just play God of War with a good pair of headphones and thank me later.

This is also a good idea if you’re doing some late-night gaming and don’t want to disturb the neighbors.

The headphone jack can also be used to plug in a compatible headset which will allow you to chat with your friends in a game.

This can be useful for coordinating an attack in Apex Legends or simply having fun.

God Of War - PlayStation 4 Controller Buttons

Motion Controls

If you’ve followed my blog for long you’ll know that I wasn’t a big fan of motion controls. That was until I played Concrete Genie. This game absolutely smashes the use of motion controls. It’s done in a fun and engaging way that kept me entertained for ages.

The motion controls in Concrete Genie allow you to manipulate the character’s paintbrush as he paints designs onto any available canvas around the world of the game.

I couldn’t recommend this game enough if you’d like to explore motion controls in more detail. If you’re interested, check out the review I did:

Concrete Genie PS4 – Snapshot Review.


How To Connect The PlayStation 4 Controller To Your PS4 Console

The first time you connect your PlayStation 4 controller to your PS4 console you will need to sync it.

To sync your PS4 controller to your PS4 console:

  1. Connect the USB cable (included with the controller) to the controller and the PS4 console.
  2. Turn on your console, either by pressing the power button on the console itself or by turning on another already paired controller.
  3. Once the console is turned on, press the PlayStation button on your connected controller to begin pairing it.
  4. If this process has been successful you will notice that the light bar will glow and you will be able to control the PS4 console.
  5. Now that the controller has been successfully synced to your PS4 console, you no longer need the USB cable connected to use the controller (aside from charging).

How Long Does The PlayStation 4 Controller Last?

The battery life of the PlayStation 4 controller lasts roughly 6-8 hours. With that said, this can vary depending on the age of the controller and how many battery saving settings you have turned on.

If you’re interested in learning how to make your PS4 Controller last longer between charges, why not check out this helpful article from Digital Trends: PlayStation 4 Controller Battery Saving Tips.


Can You Charge The PlayStation 4 Controller While Playing?

As with anything you charge, it’s not recommended that you charge the controller while playing it. This will increase the time to fully charge the controller and you may damage the connection point over time. With that said, it is possible to do; all you need is a long enough Micro USB cable plugged into your controller.

Instead of gaming while charging, I would recommend investing in at least one other controller and perhaps a charging dock.

This way you can have a backup controller ready to go and easily charge the other one when it runs out of battery.

Ratchet & Clank - PlayStation 4 Controller Buttons

Conclusion

We’ve covered quite a lot in this article. Let’s sum up what we talked about relating to PlayStation 4 controller buttons:

  • We looked at all of the different PlayStation 4 Controller Buttons and how they are used in games
  • I talked about some of the other features of the Dualshock 4 controller including the light bar, the built-in speaker, and the headphone jack.
  • I showed you how to connect your PS4 controller to your PS4 console.
  • We looked at how to change the PlayStation 4 controller light color.
  • I talked about how long the PlayStation 4 Controller lasts.
  • And finally, we answered the question, can you charge the PlayStation 4 controller while playing

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