PlayThings: PlayStation 4 Controller (Used)

Because preservation isn’t just about keeping things pristine – it’s about saving the stories behind the things we love to use.

Bringing you the latest instalment in our Playthings news series, examining the fascinating stories behind the played videogame objects from our Playthings exhibition and beyond.


In a time when it’s difficult to physically interact with our collection, we’ve been trying to come up with alternative ways to talk about interesting videogame objects. 

We quickly realised that we all have our own private collections! Our own homes are personal museums that are filled with fascinating videogame ‘PlayThings’. These objects may not be in pristine condition, but in the ‘wear and tear’ lie personal stories of how these objects were played with. This ‘played-fulness’ aspect is at the core of all of the objects in the collection.

Because they’re not just objects, they’re our objects.  

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All of us who play videogames have a fleeting, but meaningful, relationship with our controllers. In turn, our discarded controllers tell unique stories about our relationship with videogames, procedural memories made through these amazing pieces of multimedia technology.

Take this 2014 Glacier White PlayStation 4 controller, for instance. 

At first glance, this object might not be rare, or really look that interesting – it’s a PS4 controller, so what? But, by taking a look at the controller’s imperfections and obvious signs of use, we can get a better sense of how this object was personally played with.

Firstly, this controller is a product of hype culture. It was bought as an additional controller alongside the black PS4 Destiny bundle.

In part, this was a purchase made in the context of wall-to-wall advertisements raising awareness of Destiny as the next new phenomenon. Even the BBC called this project “the most expensive game ever” .

The controller clearly wears the battle scars of its extensive time with Destiny. Hours spent fighting hordes of Earth’s enemies on Venus, the Moon, and Mars have led to the rubber on the left analogue thumbstick to disintegrate and eventually fall off, revealing a hard plastic core.

This personal perspective of witnessing hardware degradation is indicative of a common issue with early iterations of the controller that saw mass rubber reductions. Especially when a controller was totally overused, the rubber didn’t stand a chance! Thousands, if not millions, of controller analog sticks have seen this form of erosion. Each one has a story attached to it.

(If this hits home and you’d like to fix yours, check this guide out.)

For one last heist, the controller was used for the author’s delve into the notoriously difficult Dark Souls series. Knowing that this game would require the patience of a Saint, and the skills of a professional esports player, this author turned to the trusty controller. 

And this was the right decision, because as it turns out, neither the patience of a Saint nor the skills of a professional esports player would be found here. 

This controller, with the visible layers of botched scotch tape on the left grip, shows the evidence of pure videogame frustration. This DIY job of patching together a controller that was squeezed and slammed in frustration at the unfairness and punishing nature of the Dark Souls series is now an integral part of the story of the controller.

The controller is both personally associated with the trials and tribulations in Dark Souls and a wayfaring odyssey in Destiny. More importantly than those specific memories, the controller is a symbol of the enduring nature of broken hardware. These inanimate objects find new life in the stories they help to create through games. 

So, with the controller suffering more than one seemingly mortal wound, it is destined to languish as secondary controller. A representation of the ‘other player’, the adversary in a game of FIFA21, or the lowly co-operative player who, like a younger sibling, inherited the worn clothes of the older child. 

As the controller sits idly on a table, destined for a quiet retirement, the cogs of the videogame industry turn. Newer controllers – with functional thumbsticks – arrive on the scene, brand new and glistening with optimism of new games. Newer pieces of plastic replace the older pieces of plastic. And with this cycle, another cycle of creating personal and unique memories with playing videogames begins anew.


Want to learn more about videogame PlayThings?
Learn about E.T. and the U.S. game market crash
Goldeneye Limited Edition N64 Controller
Lemmings Adventure Gamebooks and Interactive Storytelling