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Laura Laabs




See Figure 1

The following is an expanded version of a 2022-2023 Works-in-Progress presentation by Laura Laabs (Offenbach University of Art and Design) and Kerim Doğruel (Goethe University), Encased Futures | Sensations & Seamlessness.


Figure 1. (Un-)Zipping Astro Bot. Author’s screenshot.

In the middle of the jungle, Astro Bot and I stumble upon a peculiar object: a robotic or space suit resting atop a circular metallic platform. Without hesitation, Astro Bot hops into the suit. The camera zooms in on Astro Bot's back. I’m confronted with a sizable zipper running vertically down the screen, dividing the suit in two (Figure 1). The gaping garment mechanism isn’t just an invitation; it is a clear call to action in an intuitively intelligible situation: close the zipper to progress in the game. Yet, this moment gives me pause. What does it mean to intuitively understand the prompt of a zipper? Here, in the videogame Astro's Playroom (Team Asobi 2020), a pre-installed tech demo designed to showcase the capabilities of the PlayStation 5's DualSense controller, the unexpected appearance of the zipper evokes a host of ingrained knowledge and associations accumulated over decades of habitual use. Let's pause for a moment and resist the zipper's prompt. Let's give the devices at hand room to be perceived and to materialize their implicit, intuitively graspable meanings…

Why choose a zipper, among all possible technological objects, to teach players the touchpad functionality or promote the haptic feedback of a gaming controller? “It can be argued that zippers are the first machines that any of us learn to master in our childhood, and they remain the most common mechanisms of our daily lives.”[1] If using a zipper seems like child’s play, this might be because its operation is often learned through play in childhood. The German touch-and-feel book Auf und zu, das kann ich schon! [2] combines pedagogy and play into a learning-by-doing approach, on the one hand introducing the zipper as a utilitarian device for handling one’s clothing, while on the other hand playfully establishing the zipper as an interface in the tactile handling of media objects such as books (Figure 2). Further, in a convergence of state efforts to promote “efficiency and professionalism” in US households, research in behavioral psychology on children’s development and education, and the push by zipper manufacturers to develop the market for children’s clothing, the zipper briefly emerged as a technology of children’s autonomy in the United States during the late 1920s to early 1930s.[3] An alternative to complicated buttons, the argument went, the zipper can help children dress autonomously, thus fostering self-reliant agency (a quality, it goes without saying, that any good US citizen possesses). Lastly, Fastening Days, the first of several animated short films commissioned by Japanese zipper manufacturer YKK, further illustrates the use of zippers in shaping or branding narratives of empowerment and agency. In the short film, zippers are to a young pair of siblings what spiderwebs are to Spider-Man: strings shot out from the wrist to intervene in precarious situations. When their foster mom’s futuristic, high-tech wheelchair goes off the rails, the superhero kids’ reliable zippers save the day and patch up the social fabric. Evidently, learning how to use a zipper is not just a matter of learning how to operate an object of everyday life. It is also a matter of introduction to specific regimes of mediation.

Figure 2: A German kid’s book, haptically and mechanically educational, opens and closes with a zipper. Courtesy the Author.

If you’ve ever toyed with your or somebody else’s zipper, perhaps out of boredom, curiosity or bashful deliberation, or maybe for no particular reason at all, you’ll recognize the distinct tactile and auditory pleasures it offers. As I ponder over Astro Bot's open zipper, a translucent blue hand is already at work, performing a perpetual loop of the motions I am expected to imitate. Its design is conspicuously plain, as if to avoid any apparent markers of gender or race. With this loop and its expectation of mimetic learning, the hand sets the normative standard for the bodily techniques [4] of playing Astro's Playroom and using the DualSense controller, imprinting a gesture millions of players will, over the course of millions of repetitions, commit to muscle memory. Throughout its levels and fine-motor challenges, Astro's Playroom introduces and presents the differentiated haptic feedback of the DualSense controller, working to establish a vision of what it will corporeally feel like to play PlayStation games. Eventually, I take the zipper’s cue and slide my thumb upwards across the controller's smooth plastic touchpad to close it. I feel the controller vibrating on my skin as I carefully move my finger to feel each individual vibration accompanying the closing and separating of the zipper’s teeth, covering and uncovering Astro Bot’s body. The rhythm of the individual jolts corresponds to the speed of my movements. Instead of swiftly zipping it shut in one motion—emulating the speed that the very term 'zipper' evokes onomatopoeically (at least in the English language[5])—I linger with this scene; I play around with the zipper, opening and shutting it, covering and uncovering Astro Bot’s body over and over again.

Figure 3: James Bond unzips Miss Caruso with his magnetic wristwatch in Live and Let Die. Author’s screenshot.

From literary fiction like Kurt Tucholsky's short story “Wie sieht der Erfinder des Reißverschlusses aus?”[6] (1928) and Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World (1932), to movies such as Gilda (Vidor, 1946) and Live and Let Die (Hamilton, 1973), and music albums like the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers (1971), the zipper has frequently appeared as object and motif symbolizing various themes such as anxieties about capitalism and modern technology's influence on society (Tucholsky, Huxley), wonder at technological inventions (Tucholsky, Bond), playfulness (Bond, Stones), and sexual titillation (all of the above), oftentimes in conjunction with each other. In our context of Astro's Playroom and its introduction of the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback, perhaps the Bond movie and the Stones’ vinyl sleeve are most instructive.[7] In Live and Let Die, James Bond uses his newly-acquired gadget—a wristwatch that generates a magnetic field upon the push of a button—to unzip his latest bedfellow and fellow secret agent Miss Caruso's dress (Figure 3). “What delicate touch,” she marvels breathlessly, whereupon Bond flirts with his characteristically punny machismo: “Sheer magnetism, darling.” Bond's masculine sex appeal and technological savvy announce themselves in unison at the site of the zipper. Once again, Bond demonstrates his capability of repurposing Secret Service high-tech tools from devices to defend and uphold British hegemony into toys serving his private pleasures, much to the delight of the audience, who expects no less. Crucially, this is the wristwatch’s first introduction to both the audience and Bond. Thanks to the zipper, Miss Caruso’s backside becomes a testing ground, setting the stage for an impromptu tech demo that habituates a technological innovation of Empire. It is the zipper with its erotic connotations that lends excitement to the watch, as Bond controls it without even touching it—almost as if he were using a wireless videogame controller.

Figure 4: The Sticky Fingers vinyl cover with the functioning zipper as seen in a video uploaded to the YouTube channel Nikita Nakonechnyi. Author's screenshots.

When it comes to the Rolling Stones' 1971 vinyl sleeve, we find ourselves engaging in a similar undressing scenario, reminiscent of the scene in Astro's Playroom, but with a more explicitly sexual charge. Sticky Fingers’ vinyl sleeve, designed by Andy Warhol and Craig Braun, is adorned with a paper belt flap and a functional zipper. Pulling down the zipper offers a sneak peek of what many interpreted as Mick Jagger’s pelvic area clad in snug panties,[8] with his penis distinctively bulging against the white fabric. When the cover is opened like a book, the full image is revealed (Figure 4). The album’s title playfully references, or maybe predicts, material traces of sexual performance, thus linking the concealed record to “Mick Jagger’s” genitalia in a manner that explicitly ties rock’n’roll artistry to masculine sex appeal, not entirely dissimilar to the Bond's scene.[9] In addition, it alludes to the “sticky” appeal of the vinyl cover itself. The zipper is an attraction. Instantly inviting, it transforms the vinyl cover into a tactile toy. It’s easy to imagine someone playing with it, repeatedly pulling it up and down. Initially, the functioning zipper posed a design challenge, as the zippers rubbed against and thus damaged what would seem to be the main attraction of the product – namely the records. Production processes were adjusted to place the fastener on top of the record’s center label during distribution—consequently, “Mick Jagger’s” fly was manually unzipped all the way, making the cover “even sexier.”[10]

In both examples, desire and technology converge through the zipper while, in all the cases mentioned, the zipper enhances the allure of the respective medium—a book, a wristwatch, a record sleeve, a controller. As I fidget with the zipper in Astro’s Playroom, I hold a controller that, despite its self-proclaimed inventiveness, has felt intimately familiar from the first time I used it: The buttons and joysticks are in the exact places etched into my muscle memory over the years. Remarkably, an old and ostensibly mundane object like the zipper shapes the game’s rite of re-initiation. While Astro’s Playroom crafts an intensely branded audiovisual and bodily regime of PlayStation gaming,[11] indulging in the repeated zipping and unzipping of Astro Bot’s robotic suit, it becomes clear that the zipper exceeds mere function or ornamentation; it becomes an interface to be tinkered with for its own pleasurable sake.



[1] Robert Friedel, Zipper. An Exploration in Novelty (New York/London: W. W: Norton, 1994): vii. Return to text.

[2] The title roughly translates to Open and closed, I can already do that! The word ‘schon’ (‘already’) establishes a specific temporality by anticipating a triumphant achievement of learning how to coordinate one’s body through the medium of the touch and feel book. Return to text.

[3] Friedel, Zipper, 176–183. Return to text.

[4] David Parisi, “Game Interfaces as Bodily Techniques,” in Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education Vol. 1, ed. Richard E. Ferdig (Hershey: IGI Global, 2009): 114. Return to text.

[5] The German term for the mechanism is “Reißverschluss”, a compound noun from “reißen”, meaning to rip, tear, or vehemently pull, and “Verschluss”, meaning fastener. Similarly to “zip”, the term “reißen” somewhat evokes the sharp sound a material such as fabric or paper makes while you rip or tear it apart. Return to text.

[6] The title asks the intriguing question, “What Does the Inventor of the Zipper Look Like?”—a question Tucholsky answers satirically. The story imagines the zipper's inventor as a German-American, average tinkerer named Sam, who comes up with a good idea, subsequently dumbfounds American businessmen and starts a new life with a young woman more slender and attractive than his wife. Even in his inevitable financial ruin, his feelings of Schadenfreude dominate Sam's emotional state—having sold his idea to the Americans, but not his expertise. Return to text.

[7] For a more in-depth discussion of the zipper as a motif in Tucholsky, Huxley and Gilda see Friedel 1994, 204–224. In his essay “The Zipper,” Leonard Michaels recounts his memories of watching Gilda in the cinema as a young teenage boy; an experience of sexual awakening prompted by Rita Hayworth via her dress zipper. In this recollection, a woman’s dress zipper is, on the one hand, a site of deeply gendered power struggles as well as an object of major affective weight which resurfaces as a convolution of pleasure and discomfit in Michaels’ written account of his teenage experience. On the other hand, this zipper, as well, is a specific artifact of filmic mediation, namely of Hollywood film productions under the Hays Code. In a reflection of filmic regimes of visibility and invisibility, Gilda’s zipper suggests and implies the possibility of nudity and sex while simultaneously containing the same. Return to text.

[8] It is not, in fact, known exactly who stood in as a model for the photograph, but it wasn't Jagger. “‘But I wanted it to be ambiguous because I said, 'If girls think that that's Mick's dick, we're going to sell more albums',” Braun quoted in Joe Hagan, “The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, and the Man Who Made the Most Notorious Album Art of 1971,” Vanity Fair, April 15, 2021, Return to text.

[9] With Sticky Fingers, the Stones also debuted their tongue-and-lips logo, printed on an inlay and adding another layer of sexual innuendo in conjunction with the cover art. Return to text.

[10] Braun quoted in Hagan, “The Rolling Stones”. Return to text.

[11] David Parisi, “A Counterrevolution in the Hands: The Console Controller as an Ergonomic Branding Mechanism,” Journal of Games Criticism 2.1 (2015). See also Brendan Keogh, A Play of Bodies. How We Perceive Videogames (Cambridge, MA/London: MIT Press, 2018), 75–108. Return to text.



Friedel, Robert. Zipper. An Exploration in Novelty. New York, NY/London: W. W. Norton, 1994.

Flad, Antje. Auf und zu, das kann ich schon! Würzburg: Arena, 2005.

Hagan, Joe. “The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers, and the Man Who Made the Most Notorious Album Art of 1971.” Vanity Fair. April 15, 2021. Retrieved from

Hamilton, Guy, director. Live and Let Die. Eon Productions, United Artists, 1973.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1932. London: Vintage, 2004.

Ishida, Hiroyasu, director. Fastening Days. Studio Colorido, YKK, 2014.

Keogh, Brendan. A Play of Bodies. How We Perceive Videogames. Cambridge, MA/London: MIT Press, 2018.

Michaels, Leonard. “The Zipper.” The Threepenny Review 46 (1991): 31–32.

Nikita Nakonechnyi. “The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers (1971) LP.” October 10, 2020.

Parisi, David. “A Counterrevolution in the Hands: The Console Controller as an Ergonomic Branding Mechanism.” Journal of Games Criticism 2.1 (2015).

Parisi, David, “Game Interfaces as Bodily Techniques.” in: Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education Vol. 1, ed. Richard E. Ferdig. Hershey: IGI Global, 2009. 111–126.

Tucholsky, Kurt. “Wie sieht der Erfinder des Reißverschlusses aus?” in: Gesamtausgabe Band 10: Texte 1928, ed. Ute Maack. Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2001.

Vidor, Charles, director. Gilda. Columbia Pictures, 1946.


Laura Laabs is a research fellow at the Offenbach University of Art and Design (HfG). Previously, she was a research fellow with the research training program “Configurations of Film” at Goethe University Frankfurt. She is a member of the editorial board of the German journal for computer game studies Paidia. In her dissertation project on bodily techniques of videogame play, she traces the cultural conventions, contingencies, and politics of how bodies and materials of video-games meet and relate to each other, and brings videogames into conversation with broader media practices. Further interests include paratexts of videogames and the knowledges they produce, especially in videogame advertising; affective relations of play and labor; and media histories of mundane objects. 

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