I didn’t think that Control would have much in common with Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, an autobiographical comic about her childhood in a funeral home and her later coming out as a lesbian. The comic strayed through my mind as I was walking around The Oldest House, though, and I now realise why: They both remind me of my uni library.
For Fun Home, the association is pretty straightforward. Both Bechdel and I went to Oberlin College, in the US, and some of the scenes in Fun Home take place there. Central to the campus is Mudd Library, an ominous structure whose design draws from an architectural style called brutalism. You’ve probably seen brutalist buildings and thought, “wow, how ugly.” That’s what I thought for a long time, though I’ve grown an appreciation for the blocky forms and concrete that signify the style. Mudd, a squat concrete rectangle with a huge ramp leading up to what I thought of as a gaping maw during exam time, would have been difficult not to include.
But what I remember most strongly about the library is what’s inside, and that is where my memories of Mudd combine with my experiences of Control. My library was a concrete building filled with colourful ’70s furniture. So is The Oldest House.
Granted, my library was not a supernatural building that shapeshifted, though given how frequently I got lost in there, it might as well have been. That Control so strongly called up a fully sensory memory of Mudd startled me. It wasn’t just that it reminded me of the place visually – I was transported there. I could feel the roughness of the upholstery, smell the dusty air of ageing books. It made me feel like I forgot some assigned reading.
Bechdel’s representation of Mudd was vivid in its specificity. As it had been assigned for a class, I read the comic in Mudd. Reading a scene where a character is sitting almost exactly where you are, in a womb chair, complete with a meticulously drawn illustration of a similar room and a similar chair was a real trip. That Control manages to convey the same kind of sense memory in me through the universality of its brutalist design makes the game a marvel.
The Oldest House is every brutalist building. The style is so stratified that small architectural flourishes convey much more than just a time period. The portraits hanging in each waffled square of the boardroom walls remind me of the same waffling in Mudd’s basement, where my campus job was. The Research Sector’s high ceilings and winding staircase remind me of entering the library, the feeling of being in a house of knowledge washing over me. It’s less that the building looks exactly like Mudd and more that walking around The Oldest House gives me the same feeling I felt as a student.
Fun Home and Control have more in common than I first assumed. Both are stories of unhappy childhoods and self-discovery. They’re stories of family and the secrets that families keep. Fun Home also centres its story around a building – not Mudd, but the titular funeral home that Bechdel recreates in her comic inch by inch. But it is Mudd where Bechdel begins to explore her sexuality for the first time, by reading about lesbianism and understanding her sexuality. Similarly, it’s only once Jesse Faden is within The Oldest House that she learns who she is and what she’s really capable of.
In North America, the low cost of constructing brutalist buildings led to a huge influx of brutalist buildings on university and college campuses. Associating them with universities and libraries is only natural. I often wonder if I would feel the same in Mudd now as I did when I was in uni. It felt both like a prison and like a warm home, littered with little vintage living room setups for people to study in. The Oldest House feels the same when I play Control: These are places to learn, but you should be prepared for the knowledge you gain to change your life.