Why are they called "consoles"?

AFAIK, In computing, the name "console" for machine interface came from the fact, that initially it was a literal console table with typewriter on it. But gaming consoles never were anything like that.


I've stumbled upon a video of an old Atari add, and in the add it is called 'Video Computer System'. video

  • As it seems you should maybe try another SE (history, languages?). The origin of console goes far back in history where there were no electronic devices or even remotely anything like that. Maybe people over there are not that quick with their thumbs down and try to help instead.
    – dly
    Mar 3, 2018 at 19:37
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    This is a gaming term. Who else to ask but people passionate about gaming? The question feels close enough in spirit to gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/259070/… Mar 3, 2018 at 19:48
  • Terminology and gaming history are contentious areas. It may be accepted here, but don't expect it to be completely positive.
    – Frank
    Mar 3, 2018 at 22:18
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    Early game consoles looked very much like control consoles. It's not a stretch to assume that's why they were named as such.
    – Powerlord
    Mar 4, 2018 at 11:58

3 Answers 3


The term "console" in electronics originates with the "consolidation" of multiple component parts into a single unit. The term itself grew in popularity alongside the micronization of consumer electronics and industrial technology alike. Earliest references typically address a console as an array of switches which consolidated the controls for multiple machines. This is why a Commodore 64, which has multiple control and interface units connected to its processing base and screen, is considered more along the lines of a traditional computer than, say, an Atari 2600.

Marketing companies aggressively used "console" in consumer electronics because it was synonymous with micronizing awesome new technology. Similar to phones now, it was a trend to cram as much capability as you could into a cabinet or other piece of furniture (i.e. the common Television becoming a Television Console when it was inside a wooden frame that often had drawers). Even then, however, Nintendo's flag products were "Entertainment Systems" and Sega called theirs simply "Systems". All of these words were carefully chosen in marketing to tell consumers that the single device did the job of several. That was the 70's/80's/early 90's theme. "It doesn't just dice, it makes julienne fries! It doesn't just play Adventure, it plays Pong! It's not just a computer; you don't need a mouse or an expensive screen. It's a console!"

We'd probably still have a lot of references to "System" if it weren't for the collapse of the video game market and the foundation of the internet increasing the number of PC users dramatically. Now, that word can mean anything, as both PCs and Consoles are computer systems, to the point that you can even install Linux or Windows on some consoles.

The reason console is perpetuated is, again, marketing. The word comes with it an expectation of the product; you dont' expect it to replace your computer, you expect it to play your games. Likewise, you know it's something different than a PC, because some of those games will never be on PC. Even though the fundamental hardware is almost identical. Even the "Console vs PC debate", which is really just "which controls do I like better and how often can I do upgrades", benefits marketing for both Console and PC game publishers (who are usually the same people). It's now just a word to differentiate the "console games" from the "PC Games", which allows them to drive their exclusives markets.


The name "gaming console" was formed by combining two words:

The act of playing electronic games is referred to as gaming.

A console is a device or system that provides a centralized input and output interface.

This combination of phrases refers to a dedicated electronic gadget developed particularly for playing video games. Gaming consoles are usually connected to a television or display and include specialized controllers for user input. The word has evolved to signify a separate category of devices designed for interactive and immersive game experiences as the gaming industry has grown.

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    I think the OP is less interested in the logic behind the combination of the words, than they are in the origin of the use of "console" to begin with.
    – Joachim
    Nov 26, 2023 at 11:38

A console, as its been labelled, is (and always has been) a proprietary gaming platform. While this type of gaming device has the advantage of running any available game at top performance, it also puts a restraint on the overall versatility. To put it in more simplistic terms, Xbox will not read, play, or recognize a PS3/PS4 game and vise versa.

Despite the fact that this information may not make the concept of a 'console' any clearer to you at all, its a perspective that led me to understanding it. On the other hand, the definition of "console" lists 3 or 4 different meanings, most of which have no relatable similarities that I can think of...

  1. A panel or unit accommodating a set of controls for electronic or mechanical equipment.
    • A small electronic device for playing computerized video games.
    • A cabinet for television or radio equipment.
    • A monitor and keyboard in a multiuser computer system.
  2. An ornamented bracket with scrolls or corbel supporting a cornice, shelf, or tabletop.
  3. A support between the seats of an automobile that has indentations for holding small items.

However... if you take a closer look at the origin of the word... consolidare in Latin translates to 'together' (con) 'make firm' (solidare). So, if you consider the gaming performance of 'console' systems, you might describe them as "reinforced, strengthened, and more solid" than that of a multipurpose personal computer or smartphone.

The bottom line is... a console system's sole function is gaming. Every aspect of its architecture is designed specifically with that very purpose in mind. Computer systems, contrarily, are focused on a much wider variety of tasks, although there are exceptions such as 'gaming computers' and self built systems. Such customized/specialized PCs aren't your average, typical computer purchased by consumers, though... and even if it were, no computer (that I know of) on the market today is designed solely for gaming.

You're always gonna find those bundled programs... Web Browser, Word Processor, Email application, Calendar, Address Book, Media Player, etc. etc. So while hundreds of this site's members bang out line after line of code in a programming "console" I can only hope the conclusions I've conveyed provided a new perspective.

Now, if you'll excuse me... I'm off to run a Playstation 1 emulator on my PC to play Final Fantasy Tactics. :P (jk)

  • Ok, 'consolidated' gaming functionality, therefore console. Do you know of any historical references in support of this theory? Mar 10, 2018 at 19:34
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    Apart from maybe the first paragraph this seems more an opinion than a real answer. Mar 10, 2018 at 21:22
  • Well, my apologies. There are no definitive historical events that plainly spell out why gaming devices were born with the name 'console', so speculation and opinion are the ONLY "real answers". Mar 15, 2018 at 9:28
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    The marketers of the first gaming system in 1967 deemed it a "console" and that was it. If you need historical references... here are a few: history.com/topics/history-of-video-games en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_console Mar 15, 2018 at 9:38

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