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Control (PS4) story theory

This is my theory for what the story in the videogame Control means. Control is a videogame with a very surreal, dream-like story in the style of David Lynch and Satoshi Kon.

Why not take the story literally?

Judging from what I have seen on Youtube, most people seem to be taking the events in the game at face value. And maybe that’s what the developers intended! However, taking the story literally rubs me the wrong way for the following reasons:

  • Dreams are clearly really important in this story
  • Blurring/confusing reality and fantasy is a recurring theme
  • If the bits about her being a janitor’s assistant and the “office scene” at the end are irrelevant, why are they there? Writing and programming that kind of stuff is hard

Even if everything here is wrong, it’s how it makes sense to me! Finally, note that I haven’t played Alan Wake or Quantum Break so I might not be on board with some assumptions or world-building or whatever.

Theory

Summary / Thesis

Jesse is the janitor’s assistant and most of the events in the game don’t happen, or at least don’t happen as they are shown in the game. She is fantasizing about those things happening to her and lives a pretty mundane life.

However, see the “synchronicity” note below.

Timeline

Something awful happened in Ordinary

Whether or not most/all adults disappeared is not clear (maybe only her parents and older acquaintances?). It has nothing to do with supernatural elements, though.

Traumatised, she starts believing in conspiracy theories

Evidence:

  • From a psychiatrist session recording: the psychiatrist says that there was an industrial accident in Ordinary, and Jesse replies “No. It wasn’t an accident. It was a cover up. The government knows about it.”
  • America Overnight, the radio show you can find in-game mentions this event, and clearly boosts conspiracy theories. Jesse could have been a listener of that show.

She enters a mental hospital

She is forced into a mental hospital and has problems telling apart truth from fiction. Evidence:

  • From a psychiatrist interview recording: “You know that we cannot let you go before you’re well. And that begins by understanding what’s real and what’s imagined.”
  • From a psychiatrist interview recording: “As a child, did you ever fantasize about worlds inside pictures. You know, stepping into a painting, into a hidden world, escaping and finding adventures there?”
  • From a psychiatrist interview recording: “You have mentioned a few times that there’s a piece of you missing. It’s natural that you feel that way. Your brother and your parents are dead.” Jesse: “No. Dylan’s not dead.”
  • Jesse: “I was eleven years old the first time I saw behind the poster. They told me I’d imagined it”
  • The motel is described as a “place of power”… but Jesse also says that it’s just her imagination (when the music video in the third room).

When she is out, she looks for a job

At some point she goes somewhere (the FBC? does it even exist? maybe it’s the FBI? Arish says that is protects American “from foreign threats”) to look for a janitor’s assistant job. Evidence:

  • When she meets Ahti, he says “There you are. You come for the job. ‘Janitor’s assistant’“
  • Late in the game, when returning to the janitor’s office, she says “I suppose THE janitor’s assistant does need proper janitor attire”, and she gets a new “Janitor’s Assistant” outfit
  • The janitor assigns her tasks like “fighting the mold” (cleaning) and taking care of the plants
  • She’s the one that actually solves everything around the office, why would she be the director?

She gets the job but struggles a bit

She struggles because she feels she doesn’t do her job properly. She is criticised/bullied by Emily Pope. Evidence:

  • In the office scene, Emily Pope says “There’s the new girl. Standing around daydreaming when she should be getting work done. Who the hell does she think she is? The Director?”

She fantasizes with having lots of power

Under the everyday pressure, she starts fantasizing about having power, “becoming the director”, and possibly having power over and/or being respected by Emily. Evidence:

  • The fact that the Object of Power that starts it all is a “projector” maybe it’s a metaphor with projecting our needs/fears
  • Close to the end, Dylan says “My sister had this dream. A bad dream. And the whole world was dreaming with her. She’d convinced herself that she was awake. She’s always been stubborn. I knew I had to end her dream. I had to wake her up.”
  • Upon finding the director dead, Jesse picks up the weapon and this definition is shown: “Objects of power can cause, or be the result of, AWEs (Altered World Events) intrusions upon the perceived reality”. Before that, nothing supernatural has happened yet.

The whole game is an epic version of what she’s doing

The whole game is her projection/fantasy of being powerful, and she imagines an epic version of herself doing an epic version of cleaning, taking care of the plants, improving at her job, etc. She never becomes the director of anything, but she believes that fantasy. Evidence:

  • The Clog gets “anthropomorphised” as Mr. Clog. Ahti even says “My old enemy, the Clog, is blocking the pipes”
  • In the “What a Mess: Even More Mold” mission, she says “Let’s get cleaning, she said, cocking her gun”
  • Instead of Emily Pope and others ordering her around, Jesse is “the director” and is “taking care of things” and she just gets information about what has to be done.
  • The sitting, flying hiss people are office workers in the office scene! There is a connection between the real office workers and the hiss creatures.

The fantasy could have bled into reality

It’s possible that most of the game really did happen like that, because her fantasies became reality through an extreme version of Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity, mentioned in the game.

Extras

These bits are not necessary for the above to make sense, and are less solid than the rest.

When does the switch between reality and fantasy happen?

When Jesse takes the lift at the start of the game (she goes to an interview), the scene cuts to show the credits. Afterwards she arrives somewhere with a lift, and it’s when she goes to the Director’s office and the supernatural things start to happen. Do those two things even happen the same day? Why would the janitor’s assistant have an interview with the Director?

Even less solid, mostly fun to think about: when she arrives in the lift, there is an alarm and you can read on some screens that the building is on lockdown and that there is an “HRA emergency”. What if that means something entirely mundane, like “Health Risk Assessment” and it’s actually some problem in the building that forces them to quarantine? A health issue would explain the obsession with the mold.

Dylan

He is dead, or maybe never existed, or maybe it’s another personality of her:

  • From Dylan’s dreams: “In the dream, I was alone. It was just me. I was the only child. A girl. My name was Jesse Dylan Faden.”
  • From Dylan’s dreams: “You’ve always been here, the only child”
  • From a psychiatrist interview recording: “You have mentioned a few times that there’s a piece of you missing. It’s natural that you feel that way. Your brother and your parents are dead.” Jesse: “No. Dylan’s not dead.”

Polaris

It might be another personality, or maybe the player?

  • From “Ordinary AWE: Stage 4.a”: Dylan says that “Jesse said we should call her Polaris. It’s because she was doing stars at school”
  • At the beginning, when presumably talking about Polaris: “I forget, ‘it’s all in my head’. There’s no you, right?”
  • From Dylan’s dreams: “Polaris is using you. The bureau is using you. You are a puppet.”
  • In a psychiatrist interview recording, Polaris is referred to as an imaginary friend from her childhood.