Control’s World-Building: The Dead Letters Department

Remedy Entertainment’s Control takes place in a world where the bounds of reality have been thrown into question. With Control: Ultimate Edition joining PS Plus this month, more players will have the opportunity to explore the game’s shifting halls. The Federal Bureau of Control, headquartered in the inter-dimensional Oldest House where the game is set, is responsible for identifying, locating, and managing Altered World Events. AWEs are typically the result of Altered Items or more dangerous Objects of Power causing all sorts of unexplainable phenomena. All the strange happenings in the Oldest House allow for plenty of side content, even after beating Control.

Though the Bureau in the Oldest House is anything but normal, it is still a federal agency in an office building. Control is a masterclass in world-building through collectibles, using office correspondence and various other documents to bring the Bureau to life. Not counting Control‘s expansions, The Foundation and AWE, the base game has a whopping 287 collectibles, most of which are heavily redacted. Some even reference other found documents, creating micro-narratives and characters that don’t exist outside the collectibles, kind of like how the Dark Souls lore is notoriously told through item descriptions.

Only one section of the Bureau of Control seems immune to the rampant redaction that takes place throughout the mysterious agency: the Dead Letters Department. Dead letters is a term that refers to undeliverable mail. It seems that the Dead Letters Department is responsible for monitoring the U.S. Postal Service and confiscating any mail that may be related to AWEs or the Bureau itself. The Bureau’s work is very dangerous, and it works hard to keep the existence of Altered Items a secret from the general public.

The many towering filing cabinets in Dead Letters implies the department has quite a lot on its plate, and this is supported by collectibles found throughout. Because AWEs happen seemingly at random, and cause all manner of unexplainable phenomena, Control’s Dead Letters apparently gathers any and all correspondence that might be a lead on identifying Altered Items.

In the general work space of Dead Letters, the wheat is separated from the chaff. Lower level employees apparently spend their days sifting through letter after letter, trying to identify anything that the Bureau can use. Most of it must be utter nonsense. One letter addressed to the New York Tribune has the writer claiming they’ve discovered the truth about airplanes; that they’re actually more like underground rollercoasters constructed to keep the public unaware of the hidden monsters that inhabit the sky. Other conspiracy theories abound, but some appear to be the writings of people who are mentally unwell. One is reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, containing just the phrase “I am a plaid suit in a pinstripe world” written repeatedly.

Dead Letters is clearly a very important department, despite its frequent descents into madness. The department itself is a look into how complicated and undefined the entire Bureau’s role is. The Bureau of Control is attempting to control paranatural forces it has very little understanding of, and therefore must work tirelessly in all directions.

One letter can be found on a desk in an office with relatively high security clearance. It begins, “Dear Gentlemen of the Society of Sciences.” The author, who mentions previous letters they have sent to said Society, describes a recurring event that takes place in their kitchen. This person is frequently transported to a place where they are standing on a black stone looking at an all white sky. The letter has clearly been bookmarked and advanced up the chain because it is of interest to the Bureau for multiple reasons.

The description of the author’s experience is that of one entering the astral plane, an alternate dimension that the Bureau regularly monitors, studies, and explores. This person is clearly experiencing an AWE and probably has an Altered Item somewhere in their home. Not only that, but the letter being addressed to a “Society of Sciences” points to the person either having some knowledge of a Bureau-like agency, or they’ve concocted some belief in such an agency. Either reason requires careful consideration by Bureau of Control officials, and the possibility of the Bureau’s existence being compromised presents a potentially very complex problem for the agency.

The Dead Letters Department is a prime example of the unique and thorough world-building in Control. Not only does it deliver a compelling narrative surrounding protagonist Jesse Faden, but also creates a complex and lively game world through its numerous collectibles, contributing to the Remedy universe that spans multiple games.

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