Purdue University Graduate School
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Playing With(out) Golden Hands: The Intersections of Video Game Controllers and Gamer Identity

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posted on 2024-04-19, 12:47 authored by Victoria L BraeggerVictoria L Braegger

Since the Electronic Software Association (ESA) began reporting data for the video game industry in 2002, women have represented nearly half of the game playing population. However, despite this stable statistic, the industry’s ideal “Gamer” is consistently depicted as a young, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied male, and the games industry frequently targets this idealized identity through advertising and game design. This has resulted in a culture that is notably toxic towards women and marginalized players, built on an assumption of meritocracy within games—or the expectation that every player begins each game with the same advantages, disadvantages, and skills as every other player. While the construction of gamer identity has received extensive scholarly attention, gaming peripherals—such as video game controllers—are either minimized or left entirely out of the conversation. This dissertation, informed by feminist methodologies in technical communication and game studies, uses a mixed-methods approach involving archival research, visual analysis, surveys, and interviews to understand the intersections of video game controllers and gamer identity. Using Microsoft’s Xbox as a case study, the findings demonstrate how a dominant narrative has controlled controller design decisions through iterative processes. This has resulted in controllers that are more uncomfortable, more unusable, and more frustrating for and viewed more negatively by women and marginalized players. For each controller iteration, women and marginalized participants rated controllers significantly lower. Though the total improvement score (TIS) from first iteration to current iteration were similar between women and marginalized participants and cismale participants, the lower starting point for women and marginalized participants resulted in a lower ending point. Design decisions across controller iterations privilege cismale experiences, reifying gamer identity through controller design and resulting in not just an ideal gamer identity, but an ideal gamer body.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Samantha Blackmon

Additional Committee Member 2

Michael Salvo

Additional Committee Member 3

Patricia Sullivan

Additional Committee Member 4

Kishonna Gray