A Counterrevolution in the Hands: The Console Controller as an Ergonomic Branding Mechanism

Parisi, David
Journal of Game Criticism

In this article, the author examines the tactile materiality of the videogame controller, reading its stability across multiple generations of game consoles as a strategy simultaneously intended (1) to maintain the ergonomic identification between the player/consumer and the console/brand and (2) to continue the flow of information from game machine to player body. In spite of massive investments by both Sony and Microsoft in significant controller redesigns, the companies each opted for only slight modifications to the physical structures of their gamepads. Though new generations of game hardware are always accompanied by promises of “revolutionary” changes in the game experience, the material constancy of the PlayStation and Xbox controllers suggests that the hands, and the sensations communicated through them, serve to counter and constrain potential upheavals in the modalities of game interfacing. The haptic properties of these controllers, revealed through the player’s active manipulation of the gamepad, cement a bond between player, console, and brand that engineers and marketers are reluctant to disrupt. What the author understands as an ergonomic branding strategy treats the controller as a material stand-in for the game company’s identity.

Focusing critical attention specifically on the standard console controller, rather than on more recent gesture-based interaction mechanisms or audiovisual modes of information display, reveals a stable relationship underpinning the regular generational upheavals in game hardware, and by doing so, resists embracing the teleological and progressivist narratives around interfaces that understands them as pushing toward an increased folding of player bodies into game worlds.