College of Computing and Digital Media Dissertations

Date of Award

Spring 4-27-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Design

First Advisor

Michael DeAnda, PhD

Second Advisor

Peter McDonald, PhD

Third Advisor

Lien Tran, MFA

Fourth Advisor

Enid Montague, PhD


In this dissertation I argue for the connections between the lived experience of chronic pain and videogames, exploring what interacts with and influences them. To answer this, I draw on cripistemology as I engage in autoethnography, close-reading and close-gameplay, restorying, mixed methods design, formal interviews, surveys, and inductive coding. I further argue for pushing back against the unhelpful binaries that define the “human” and a false idea of “universal” experience or ability, instead pointing to the intersectionality that better reflects the biopolitics of disability, including both debility and capacity. I engage with these methods in three specific projects that consider additional sub-questions to further tease out why videogames disability, chronic pain, game design, lived experience, human centered design, embodiment in video games have impacted me so deeply and how this ties to my identity as a disabled woman. I further offer this dissertation to highlight the growing research of lived experience and disability in the field of game studies, providing empirical data that offers a foundational look of how I as a member of the chronic pain community think and feel about videogames, as well as how a small portion of the chronic pain community discusses videogames and the range of experiences this encompasses. In doing so, I unpack and argue on the relationship that exists between chronic pain and videogames, and further articulate why this matters.

In Chapter 1 I provide necessary history and information regarding my research to better articulate the findings as presented in the following chapters. In Chapter 2, I analyze my connection to Animal Crossing: New Leaf (AC:NL) (Nintendo EAD, 2012) and explore opportunities about genre and mechanics as reflections of my own daily lived experience with chronic pain, especially including my experience in a 2014 pain rehabilitation program. Through this process, I define the “slice of life” genre and argue that AC:NL is exemplary of its markers.

In Chapter 3 I provide a deep reading and analysis of Nintendo’s GameCube release Chibi-Robo! (Skip Ltd. et al., 2005) to “restory” the titular main character to have chronic pain like my own. Through the lens of debility and capacitation machines, I map these ideas onto the biopsychosocial model to organize a thorough analysis of his restoried identity. In modding the game’s narrative to reflect a lived experience of chronic pain like my own, I interweave fanfiction with deep reading and deep gameplay to unpack what representation I am looking for in videogames both narratively and mechanically. In this I further argue how this practice can be used to inform future game design.

Finally, in Chapter 4, I interview members of the chronic pain community to understand their perspective on the connections between their lived experience with chronic pain and videogames, as well as how additional factors of their identity impact those experiences. For this I engage in a mixed methods design to conduct a survey and formal interviews to offer foundational work on how the chronic pain community interacts with videogames. I offer this project to intersect current research in chronic pain and videogames (and its related technology) that focuses on games as tools for “curing” pain, and argue the importance of considering what embodiment people with chronic pain already have in videogames instead.

Ultimately, I argue for the necessity to complicate current design practices in human centered design (HCD) and game design. To do so, I highlight the lived experience of Othered identities to combat misguided notions of “universal” intent. In this, I analyze the inherent connections between videogames and disability, in this case chronic pain, through embodiment and lived experience. I center in on how my experience of chronic pain has impacted the way in which I engage and think about with videogames, and further, how my experiences align with that of the chronic pain community.



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