Why did many commodore 64 games require the joystick to be in port #2, despite being single-player games?

I remember being annoyed by having to unplug and plug the joystick between games.

  • 4
    ha, I didn't remember this. I had a very big problem because when the joystick was plugged to that port it didn't work to move down, so there were games I could not play. +1!
    – juan
    Jul 14, 2010 at 13:58
  • I agree with the selected answer, but I heard a rumour once that there was a tendency for American games tended to use one port and UK games the other. I never did an exhaustive study. Jul 15, 2010 at 13:44
  • But why would that be? I always assumed that the 2# port was intended for plugging a second joystick for a two player game. It's also possible that for some reason it was easier, faster or in some other way more effective to read port #2 than port #1 for games.
    – Petruza
    Jul 18, 2010 at 12:21

2 Answers 2


I never really thought about that much as a kid, when I had my C-64 (we just left a joystick plugged into #2 all the time).

However, after some digging, according to Ode to Joysticks:

Port 2 eventually emerged as the default, mainly because joysticks plugged into Port 1 could interfere with the command line interface.

Which is a good point, now that I read that, I do remember that having a joystick plugged into port #1 would send bizarre key codes to the primary BASIC interpreter/command line.

Ahhhh, memories!

  • 2
    Yes! I remember that too! I had though it was on purpose!!
    – juan
    Jul 14, 2010 at 14:28
  • Oh Yes!!!! one direction printed the number 2, I recall. Maybe Joystick port #1 used the same OS interrupts that those keys. Totally off-topic: when writing on the command-line, if you opened double quotes, special keys as the cursor, home, etc. would print a reversed char instead of performing their main function, until you closed the double quotes. This was for allowing printing special chars from basic code. I didn't realise this as a kid and sent my C64 to the technical service to get it fixed assuming the keyboard was malfunctioning :P
    – Petruza
    Jul 14, 2010 at 19:19
  • Hm, port 2 is read from $DC00 and port 1 from $DC01. I wonder if it might not also be because $DC00 is simply more logical to use. Port 2 will type characters as well. :)
    – bzlm
    Sep 24, 2010 at 14:29
  • Updated link to use Wayback Machine, since the original article is long gone.
    – John Rudy
    Feb 2, 2015 at 19:34

The Commodore 64 keyboard was wired as an 8x8 matrix; it was read by sequentially driving one of eight "row" lines low and then reading whether that caused one of the eight "column" lines to also go low. Joystick port 1 was wired to five of the eight column lines; joystick port 2 was wired to five of the eight row lines. During the time between keyboard scans, the keyboard row containing the space bar would be left active; if when the keyboard was polled the kernel observed any columns were active, it would assume that they represented keys pressed on that row. It would have been possible for the kernel to idle with no rows active, and assume that if any column is active before it scans the keyboard the column should be ignored, but the kernel doesn't do that. Consequently, moving a joystick plugged into port 1 will cause stray characters to be typed. Moving a joystick plugged into port 2 while typing something may cause some keys to be erroneously registered as other keys, but it will not generate stray keypresses by itself.

  • Interesting! source?
    – Petruza
    Apr 6, 2015 at 13:12
  • 1
    Common knowledge back in the day; the C64 Reference Manual included schematics, which are now available on line.
    – supercat
    Apr 6, 2015 at 14:51

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