All quoted Scripture is from the English Standard Version.
I am not a fan of horror games. I am, however, a fan of the unsettling and macabre. I favor slow-burn environmental horror over the outright terrifying and oppressive. That’s why I’ve always been a fan of the SCP Wiki, an online collaborative fiction project that isn’t focused so much on scaring you as it is intriguing you with a world so bizarre and unsettling that it keeps you wanting to read just one more article. (It’s precisely because of this wiki that I cannot enter an IKEA without a slight sense of existential dread.)
(Note: The stories contained on the SCP Wiki contain strong language and graphic depictions of violence at times. Reader discretion is highly advised.)
So, when I found out that Remedy Entertainment’s Control was inspired by the SCP Wiki, I was intrigued. I picked it up for PS4, and the first thing that struck me (besides the frame rate drops) was how well Remedy built up the titular organization: The Federal Bureau of Control. It’s a pretty clear stand-in for SCP’s Foundation, but it takes some liberties from the source material by making the Bureau a branch of the U.S. Government. It’s no longer some faceless extraterritorial entity dealing with anomalous objects, but it’s the good old U.S. of A. and our wonderful bureaucracy.
The entire game takes place in the Oldest House, which is itself an entity the Bureau needs to deal with. It’s an enormous building designed in a brutalist architecture style, complete with cubicles and bland 1960s office stylings. This juxtaposition of paranormal phenomena happening in an oppressively stale office environment lends an odd sense of humor to the entire experience. Here we have this government agency shaking its fist at godlike entities and objects that refuse to obey the laws of the natural universe…but they’ve still got to make sure the tax paperwork is in on time.
I think that’s one of the reasons why I like this game so much. While Control absolutely leans into the horror aspects of its story at times, it never takes itself too seriously. The Federal Bureau of Control gave itself that name in some vain fantasy that it could control these phenomena, but it’s clear they’re on a knife’s edge between order and chaos. It would be easy to play this up to an existential horror level, but Control doesn’t do that. It seems very comfortable with the fact that humans will insist that we have everything taken care of, even when we very clearly don’t. It even goes so far as to add in some entertaining cutscenes with Casper Darling, head of research, attempting some lame dad humor in the face of eldritch horrors.
There’s a lot I love about Control, but its treatment of humanity’s arrogance is one of my favorite aspects. It would have been easy to lean into the horror of the unknowable and uncontrollable, but by allowing the absurdity of it all to leak in, I actually think Remedy hit on something almost spiritual about the experience. In my opinion, a holistic reading of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, will not leave you feeling particularly hopeful about humanity’s prospects as caretakers of creation. Time and time again, we see man’s arrogance and greed getting in the way of the right ordering God had set up at the end of the Creation Week. We see oppression, injustice, and idolatry at absolutely every turn.
And what is the Bible’s response to this?
I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity. I am the LORD, who does all these things. Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it.– Isaiah 45:7-8
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?– Lamentations 3:37-39
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.– Psalm 24:1-2
At every turn, we see Scripture proclaim the absolute sovereignty of God. Though human leaders puff their chests in arrogance, the Psalmist writes:
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, … He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.– Psalm 2:1-4
And it is with this background of God’s ultimate sovereignty that Jesus gives us this advice as we live in this fallen world:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?– Matthew 6:25-26
These are not empty words from a millionaire televangelist living a life of luxury. This is from a Man “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus knew what it was like to be at the end of your rope, with no other way out. And His solution for this was to submit yourself to the will of God. Rather than following in the footsteps of all humanity and asserting your dominion over the situation, release it to the Father and submit yourself to His leading. The earth will turn, the nations will rage, but “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14)
Some may see the irony of the FBC having no actual control over the entities they’re containing as horrific. And true, realizing that there are forces beyond our reach and control can have that effect. But to me, there’s a strange sort of comfort in Control’s unknowable entities. It’s a reminder that, though we have a responsibility to love our neighbor and give what we have to help others, at the end of the day, we’re not the all-powerful demigods that kings and emperors throughout history have tried to pretend that they were. Though we may not be facing eldritch refrigerators and supersonic carousel horses, each of us face our own struggles and horrors in our daily lives. And each and every day, we have a choice. Will we, like the FBC, stubbornly assert that we’ve got this, shaking our fist at the entropy of a fallen world? Or will we submit ourselves to a loving Father, the only one with any real power in this mess anyway?
Protagonist Jesse Faden has a line about midway through the game that I found oddly poignant: “I’m in an infinite building leading to different dimensions, and I never wanna leave. Even with all the horror, I’m happy. It feels sane. Or just the right kind of insane.”
The thought of releasing control to the Lord feels insane. But “whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33). The more we try to assert our dominance over our lives, the more we find it slipping through our fingers like sand. Submitting ourselves to the sovereignty of God might just be that “right kind of insane” that Jesse finds in the Oldest House.
And thankfully, this insanity doesn’t come bundled with shifting walls and inter-dimensional roadside hotels.