This interdisciplinary dissertation explores perceptions of control in modded and unmodded versions of Bethesda's sandbox video game Skyrim. Sandbox games are known for greater choice options that suggest greater perceptions of control for gamers. Sandbox games also generally encourage the use of user-generated creations called modifications (mods) that users can download to personalize their games. While we need philosophy to understand and define control as a concept, we also need psychology to understand how users perceive control in media studies. At present, qualitative academic research that measures gamer perceptions of control is non-existent as is research on how users articulate their experiences with mods. Interviews were conducted with twenty-seven individuals who identified as gamers to analyze these perceptions of control in a game like Skyrim. The first chapter is introductory and outlines key terms for the dissertation as well as the play study's methodology. The second chapter examines philosophical and psychological perceptions of control that correspond with negative freedom (freedom from) and positive freedom (freedom to). While no game can promise radical free will because they have been programmed in advance, the information here may be used to demonstrate how perceptions of control might influence game design. The third chapter continues this exploration of perceived control through genre analysis, revealing the relationship between greater perceptions of control and mod support in sandbox video games. The fourth chapter presents the first two findings from the play study that demonstrate how mods influence player perceptions of control. The fifth chapter reveals how gamers of the play study discuss their perceptions of control video games in their own words with an emphasis on positive and negative freedom and generic conventions. The final chapter provides challenges for game design and scholarly qualitative analysis for future research based on findings in the play study.


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Graduation Date





Salter, Anastasia


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Arts and Humanities

Degree Program

Texts and Technology









Release Date

May 2019

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)

Restricted to the UCF community until May 2019; it will then be open access.

Included in

Game Design Commons