swpaca 2024


In a throwaway comment to a journalist, a Microsoft hardware engineer once described the Xbox One’s controller as designed for those with “golden hands,” or those who were so hardcore that they were intimately familiar with the minute details of the controller and the miniscule twitches required to be competitive at high levels. This was a call to gamer identity: the young, white, cishet, able-bodied man that is often hailed by the industry. While gamer identity has received extensive scholarly attention, game peripherals are either minimized or left entirely out of the conversation. Developers of game software have taken steps to recognize the diversity of players, however the hardware used to play games and its impact on gaming receives little attention from industry and scholars alike. Controllers, by design, are meant to disappear in the player’s hands to facilitate play. Because the major console manufacturers tend to release one standard controller for each console, a significant user experience (UX) problem arises: one of a dominant narrative controlling design and development at the expense of women and marginalized players.

This presentation uses Microsoft as a case study to discuss how console controllers act as gatekeepers within gaming communities, reifying understandings of whose body is acceptable—and whose isn’t—in these spaces. I address the role controllers have played in shaping gamer identity through interviews with marginalized players, survey data collected from 300 participants, and visual analysis of 182 gaming magazines, unravelling the complex feedback loop between designer, advertiser, and idealized player. My research shows how a dominant narrative has controlled design decisions through iterative processes, resulting in standardized controllers that are more uncomfortable, more unusable, and more frustrating for underrepresented players.



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