Here I must quote the entire writeup that inspired this one, jkfghldagv's writeup on the letter A:
Back in the day, console games were cool. They had controllers with buttons labelled by letters. Nowadays they use symbols. On the original NES, one such button was labelled A, and was useful for playing games such as Contra.
Back to my writing:

Letters or symbols, in relation to console games:

As of this writing, the only major video game console company to use symbols instead of letters is late 1990s upstart Sony, on their Playstation and Playstation 2 consoles. Nintendo and Sega still label their buttons with A,B, C, X, Y, and Z, as do many computer peripheral companies. Whether the Microsoft X-Box will use letters or symbols on its buttons remains to be seen - the X in the title is a good sign.
The X-Box system and controller design have been revealed, but I can't think of where I saw them, so I can't check how the buttons are labelled.

I think that Sony labelled their buttons with symbols to make their controller that much more distinct in comparison to others. I think it didn't work - I suspect it had no effect on the majority of people, and only served to annoy those who missed their lettered buttons.

Letters or symbols, in relation to KMFDM:

After ten years of albums with titles made of letters, KMFDM released an album in 1997 whose title was composed of five symbols, a flash of light (or explosion), a skull and crossbones, a cartoon bomb, a spiral, and a fist striking a horizontal surface. The change in titular composition did not seem to affect anything else about the album, and I consider it one of KMFDM's best albums. It is often referred to as their self-titled album, and thus called "KMFDM", but nearly all KMFDM albums before and after it had the "KMFDM" above the cover illustration, and the album's title below the illustration. (The exceptions to this rule are the albums "What Do You Know, Deutschland?" and "Agogo") On the 1997 album, "KMFDM" is above the illustration, and the five symbols are below it, clearly identifying them as the title of the album. Therefore, if I have to refer to the album by name, I call it "Symbols".

Letters. Definitely.

With time, that Y X B A would become ingrained into your soul. You could feel it there, you could understand it. It made sense; you had progression. You moved up in the alphabet from right to left. High letters on top, low on bottom. The playstation controller symbols, on the other hand...

Oh god. I don't even know what they are.

Go into a LAN Party, anywhere, give each person over 15 a piece of paper with an outline of a Super Nintendo controller and ask them to label each button with its letter. Then ask them to do the same to a PSX controller. I almost guarantee that everyone will get the Super Nintendo one but not the PSX one.

Y X B A you felt; The Sega Genesis A B C you felt. The PSX symbols, you think, look down at the controller, think again, press. I don't think i'm alone in this; i've watched people playing PSX games, i've asked people. But i know no matter how long I play Playstation games, when i press those buttons my fingers are still feeling letters, not symbols. I learn the controls to a game mechanically, but what i'm learning is still the Y X B A on the nintendo controllers. (Thank the gods that Sony put their X where nintendo's X was, or i'd be completely lost.) Part of this may be people's tendencies to refuse to lose their old habits, but in this case i think it goes deeper.

People learn and think differently. Some are visual; some are auditory, some are tactile blah blah blah. Purely visual people could probably do the symbols just fine. I am not one of them. I for one, even if i could somehow pull off the seemingly impossible task of memorizing which shape goes where, still would not be as efficient because internally, every single time on screen something in FF9 said "Press Δ!" my brain would have to see the triangle, interpret shape:triangle, map to the thought "triangle" underneath my fingers, process triangle:shape back again, and press the button. With "Press X" there's just Letter X on screen, Letter X under fingers, press. At least, for me. (I believe very single speech action i did when i rented (and beat) the excellent Abe's Odysee took at least two tries.) There's just a bunch of steps in there with symbols that aren't with letters because (since reading is so deeply ingrained?) a picture of an X is simultaneous with the thought of an X.. and even though this makes a fraction of a split second's difference, that can be-- in a console game-- the difference between life and death.

I assume this kind of reaction is common, or that at least if this difficulty is because there's something wrong with me then the something wrong with me is just Asberger's Syndrome or something else which is very very common among the playstation's target market.

(Also see my writeup under Super Nintendo Controller for a small relevant note on craftsmanship.)

I have no clue what Sony was thinking, on any of this. My first guess would be that that some kind of Patent held by Nintendo prevented them from copying Nintendo's very sensible ideas. My other guess would be that none of this is actually a problem and i'm just on crack.

We may never know.


P.S.: as far as symbols for album names go, see also Led Zeppelin IV

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