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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Enric Granzotto Llagostera, Individualized Program

On Critical Controllers: Exploring Reflective Game Design Through Altctrl Devices, Games, and Practices

Date & time
Thursday, August 8, 2024
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Nadeem Butt


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Room 362

Wheel chair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Alternative game controllers, interfaces, and controls (altctrl) and the games designed around and through them provide novel arrangements of players and games, significantly altering play experiences. Altctrl works can take a variety of forms, including, but not limited to, custom devices coupled with new software and repurposed artifacts or play practices. They have gained cultural momentum through game jams, showcases, and specialized events. While often valued for innovation and entertainment, altctrl practices can also challenge hegemonic conventions, fostering critical, oppositional, and reflective approaches to game making and play. I set out to examine how altctrl articulates alterity and the unconventional, addressing issues of openness, materiality, criticality, and reflection. This effort is in conversation with the fields of critical and reflective game design, game design research, and game production studies. It also aims to benefit altctrl practitioners, students and educators, and game creators. 

This research combines mutually informed research-creation and qualitative research approaches. I elaborate a model for understanding altctrl as devices, games and practices, drawing from analysis of primary and secondary interviews with practitioners, online documentation of events and other works, and previous scholarship. I developed research-creation projects focused on criticality and reflectivity: an altctrl game discussing political systems and game interfacing; altctrl devices questioning do-it-yourself and circulation practices; and a set of phone-based altctrl games and tools exploring possible infrastructures for altctrl practice. These projects’ development was carefully documented, allowing for analysis focused on their reflective and critical potentials. The insights from research-creation informed the construction of an expanded set of design qualities to support reflective game design.

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