Control is a video game released in 2019 by Remedy Entertainment to mostly positive review and a number of recognition and awards. The game is an action oriented third person shooter with a story inspired by spooky alt-reality fiction such that you’d find in the SCP Foundation.
The player takes control of Jesse Faden, a seemingly ordinary woman, who stumbles into the main headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC). Think the FBI of paranormal phenomena.
The driving story of the game involves Jesse attempting to understand a paranormal world and the operations of the FBC, all while fighting off an extradimensional force invading our reality known as the Hiss and looking for her long lost brother.
The game is breathtakingly beautiful, meticulously designed, and a perfect fusion of gameplay, mechanics, and story that has no equal. What I love about this game isn’t necessarily any one point of it, but how it all works together so seamlessly.
This summary above is without spoilers, but if this game sounds interesting, I recommend you go play it before reading more. This is the kind of game that rewards curiosity and discovery.
This will be the first part of a series.
- Part 1: Metacontexual Layers
- Part 2: Environment
- Part 3: Game Play
- Part 4: Character and Story
The Layers of Control
The game starts off with Jesse Faden entering the Oldest House, a paranormal office building with supernatural properties that make it nearly undetectable from the outside and extradimensionly large from the inside.
If you don’t understand how extradimensional space works, imagine our reality is a pool of water. The Oldest House is like an alligator sticking its mouth into that pool to eat a fish. The building represents its mouth and once you’re inside of it, you’re no longer in the reality of water, you’re inside the stomach of a creature and they can now take you anywhere.
It isn’t confirmed if the Oldest House is sentient, distorted space with its own rules, or a controlled beast but any or all of that can be true.
Just keep in mind that you don’t know any of this while the game starts, you just feel like you’re in a regular office building. The first thing Jesse does is meet Ahti, a Finnish janitor/god who talks about you being there for an assistant job.
Ahti’s role is curious as he’s an extremely powerful paranormal entity and also a janitor. Nobody knows exactly what he is, but he keeps the place clean.
Most people think of custodial duties as cleaning up trash, but on a fundamental level the job of a custodian is maintaining order. What Ahti does is keep the Old House stable and even perhaps all of reality.
Jesse, during their first conversation, brings up how his face seems kind. She carries the thought further and says that he at least has a face. While she only thinks it, he comments with amusement about what it would be like to have no face.
While it seems like just a fun exchange it reveals something very important about the world. Ahti isn’t an old human Finnish Janitor, but that is the “face” that we perceive of whatever kind of entity Ahti really is.
When we consider this we can understand that his role as a janitor, his function of cleaning, and use of “caution floor wet” signs only serve to metaphorically represent things that are beyond our comprehension. They are the ‘face’ we interact with.
The most important thing to understand within the game is every aspect of it should be understood to be representational or if you want to be poetic, the shadow of hyperdimensional spaces.
The game very explicitly wants you to understand this and the very first thing we’re introduce to is Jesse making a metaphor/reference to the poster on the wall of Shawshank Redemption. She says everything thinks reality is just looking at a poster, but in actuality there are things behind that poster that can crawl out — or put another way, there are things that can crawl and slither into reality.
The Secret Horror of Control
The Federal Bureau of Control used to be a government operation until around the 1960s, when they discovered the Oldest House. At which point the FBC was taken over by a paranormal entity known as the Board, who appointed their own director to lead the organization.
When we enter the game they’re already in control. They’re our boss. We don’t really think about it, because that’s the state of the world. However, what this means is our world has already been taken over by extradimensional beings that use us to exert their will.
The Board didn’t physically invade or forcibly subjugate us like we so often see in science fiction. It merged with us like a hostile take over of a corporate business instead.
I don’t think it’s a mistake that the “face” of our experience with this entity becomes a corporate office, organization structure, and board. That’s how our mind best understands their interaction with our reality.
When this Hiss invade, the Board sees it a “War/Hostile Takeover.” The real fight of Control isn’t humans being taken over by the Hiss. It is the Board fighting the Hiss for control of humanity.
When Jesse becomes the director she does so by picking up a special gun that creates a conduit between herself, the Oldest House, and the Board. The gun is sort of like a sheriff’s badge of authority, a master key for the Oldest House, and not unlike pulling a sword from stone.
What the gun really is doesn’t matter as it is representational for all of those ideas of control, power, authority, violence, or the patriarchy if you want to get Freudian about it.
Jesse is also the Board’s hired gun, meaning she is intrinsically and metaphorically their gun. The gun is how they control you and by extension exert their control over reality.
Control constantly rhymes ideas in this regard. Jesse is a janitor assistance/director, wielding/is a gun/key, working for a janitor/god, in an office/extradimensional space, under control of a corporate board/alien overload, trying to end a war/hostile takeover.
What the game excels at is always existing in a spatial spectrum between thoughts. You never feel like you fully understand all of it, but that you have a good idea of most of it.
It makes enough sense, while still having an underlying mystery that creates this uneasy tension of not really knowing what is real or how much you can trust it.
I think these are interesting ideas by themselves, but what really impresses me is how fractally they are integrated into the entirety of the game. The closer or further you look into any part of the story or the character you see elements of rhyming ideas, representational faces, and horror lurking behind the unknown.
What’s incredible about Control is that it is a cosmic horror story at its core, that hides this fact just beneath the surface. The corporate building and organizational structure just being a pretty face to hide the absolute horror of the space you’re in.
And it’s an especially interesting commentary about how we as humans often live within horror that we normalize. That beneath the “face” of our world is very scary, traumatic, and awful things. And Control does this masterful job of hiding cosmetic horror in the shadow of where we routinely hide our regular horrors.
And even with all of that being true, it also creates an interesting commentary that even within supernatural spaces humans are just sort of human. A big part of the game is embracing and making fun of corporate culture.
(In the next section will cover the the environment and gameplay elements!)