Polaris and the Hiss in Control — Işık Barış Fidaner

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Control is a videogame (by Remedy Entertainment) that presents a nice mythology. The main conflict is staged between two elementary forces called the Hiss and Polaris, which are called “interdimensional (or extradimensional) resonances”. The Hiss is a destructive force that corrupts humans and makes them repeat a weird poem. By contrast, Polaris is a constructive force that fights the Hiss by guiding the game’s protagonist Jesse.

The obvious Freudian association would be that the Hiss is the death drive and Polaris is Eros. Since the protagonist often speaks to Polaris as if she were addressing the player, breaking the fourth wall, it appears as if the player is the force of Eros controlling Jesse to fight the evil forces of Thanatos. This association makes Control sound like an epic-heroic story of the Good against the Evil.

But a better Lacanian association would be that “Polaris vs. Hiss” is the “subject vs. object”: Polaris is the divided subject $ and the Hiss is the objet petit a (remember that “voice” is one of the official incarnations of the objet a). This second association emphasizes that “the enemy” (monsters or “mob” in videogames) actually causes the player’s desire. If you actually destroy the enemy, you would lose your desire to play. In this case, we can recognize these two mythical forces as two sides of the same coin given by the formula of fantasy, $ ◊ a.

But we could make another Lacanian association: Since the Hiss as the objet a is an incarnation of jouissance (jou-hiss-ance), and Polaris is the other side of the Hiss, why don’t we take Polaris to be another kind of jouissance? To follow the distinction from Lacan’s Encore, Polaris is “phallic jouissance” because it represents the player’s immersion in the game. From the perspective of the “phallic jouissance” of Polaris under the Control of castration, the Hiss appears to be a jouissance without castration, occupying the exceptional place of an All-powerful enemy, whereas in truth it stands for the not-all “Other jouissance”. This makes Jesse an agent that strives to enact the castration of the Hiss. She even begins this castration by giving it the name “Hiss”.

Let me also make another association by translating these interpretations into my own terms [1]: The Hiss is “enjoyment” as the basis of all embodiment, whereas Polaris is the “enjoyment in exigency” that I call the “will”. Polaris is the player’s will controlling her avatar, Jesse. This makes sense because Jesse is compelled by a strong exigency to find her brother. This story motivates the player’s will.

Why not call this exigency-castration of the Hiss by Jesse, “polarization”? As one commentator put it, Polaris is polar-hiss [2]: Polaris results from the “polarization” of the enjoyment embodied in the Hiss. This polarization is represented by the symmetrical geometry of the (poly)Hedron that embodies Polaris (shown in the image above). The symmetry of the Hedron castrates the raw enjoyment of the Hiss by subjecting it to the exigency of the signifier “Control”.

In practice, this means that the enemies in the game make semi-randomly generated movements, and the player strives to negate their randomness by coordinated movements like aiming, firing etc. In brief, the player is annoyed by the noise of the Hiss, but she cannot get rid of the Hiss as the Hiss also captivates her desire as an object-cause of a paradoxical enjoyment. The game’s title Control refers to this antagonistic relation between the subjective will of the player and the object that captivates her desire as enjoyable as well as annoying. This is expressed by Jesse’s brother Dylan who was “playing a boring game, but couldn’t stop playing” in his dream (remember that a fiction within a fiction gives the truth according to Lacan).

Another dream that Dylan tells is about Jesse being employed as an office assistant. Later, when the Hedron (Polaris) is destroyed, Jesse gets corrupted by the Hiss and imprisoned in Dylan’s dream as an office assistant. This fiction within fiction reveals a further truth about the game: The evil force that the player fights via Jesse is in fact the precarious existence offered by capitalism. The appeal of a “boring game” called Control owes to this even less appealing alternative of being Controlled by the capital. We would rather repress the dull reality of capitalism under the rubric of “the Hiss” and fight imaginary monsters. This is our “Remedy”.

Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler (Placeless Things) blog, Admin/Editor/Curator of Žižekian Analysis, and one of the admins of “Žižek and the Slovenian School” group on Facebook. Twitter: @BarisFidaner

Notes:

[1] See “The Dialectic of Castration and Jouissance”

[2] See “Polaris” in Control Wiki

For reviewing the article, thanks to u/wrapped_in_clingfilm, a mod on the reddit sub r/zizek.

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