Home Editorials Kentucky Route Zero – A Quest for Tomorrow’s America

Kentucky Route Zero – A Quest for Tomorrow’s America

by Jeb Happy

Debt. Missed opportunities. Bears. Reclusive. Extroverted and eager. There’s something in the airwaves dragging me deeper in. I can’t help but regret certain decisions I’ve made. Who am I trying to be these days? He can hold his liquor, I’m sure. These ghosts can’t seem to decide where is worth haunting anymore. The road is like an endless, cyclical process swallowing itself whole. It’s all the working class versus who-even-knows. The old versus the new. “I grieve for fading memories” or “I am haunted, unable to forget.”

I don’t say anything, I just listen. The silence would be deafening if not for the pitter patter of rain on the roof. I feel less human than normal ever since that damned leg of mine bummed out. Am I being taken advantage of? The paperwork seems as endless as history itself. This company doesn’t deserve my expertise. Ethics have no business here amongst the financially unstable. It takes a specific form of humility to keep my ambitions at bay. I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up, but I have a job to do. The dogs never bark, but they’ll certainly talk you up a storm. If that boy doesn’t stop racing around the parking lot, the delivery will be the least of my worries.

I wonder how long ago my parents stopped missing me. I’m not entirely sure we can keep him around. You’re going to fade into the background. If there’s one thing I’ll never run out of, it’s words, words and descriptions. The company of friends can be just as comforting as that of a great novel. If the journey proves more satisfying than the outcome, what difference is there in taking the long way home? The past doesn’t want me anymore, and I don’t want the past. Seeing is not always believing, is not always feeling, is not always having faith, but listening can heal wounds too deep for the effects of medicine.

My hands are cracked and bruised, begging for youth once more. Factories drain resources to produce resources used to drain factories. Everything is a blur. The television screen is hawking white noise at me. I remember the farmhouse and the accident and that damned disease. The phone lines won’t stop cracking and buzzing and whirring in their restless sleep. These tapes are grinding down into plastic, silicone dust. My circuits may be fried, but at least I can rock a new do. The wind batters my face as we ride, but look, ahead towards the horizon. Take it away, cricket, let’s blow the damn roof off the place. We always end up right back where we started.

All I’ve ever known is the road, the journey, the strangers I’ve met and their stories. Who’s to say they’re strangers at all? Their stories are as funny as they are tragic, as playful as they are melancholic. These strangers appear along my journey as though the curtain has called them to the stage. Are they whispering about the difference between frogs and toads again? If only there was some way to hear every story, to see every play, to meet every person. But the road only has so many dimensions to travel, well except the Zero of course. We could travel forever on that otherworldly road, but we would be missing out. We would be ignoring the truths defining us, denying our very existential presence.

Because every journey must come to an end, they must so that memories may hold merit. So that friends may be made. So that packages may be delivered. Time refuses to ever pause for a moment, the restless aging never stops. The tires spin, lungs cough black fluid, hearts beat slower each day, motors dry up. Thankfully, machines are replaceable…. What does that mean for me? My limbs and organs may not be as significant as I used to think. The frogs are too loud. Forget it, toss me another glass of whiskey, straight. Age does not reveal knowledge, nor experience. I lament the fact that I cannot be everywhere I am needed at once. Should I prod, or leave them to their own thoughts? Every little detail has a story to tell, isn’t that just a wonderful thing to know?

Contemplative and ethereal, Kentucky Route Zero defies all notions of gamified logic. Wrapping the player in a warm bundle of storytelling, one part visual novel, one part semi-interactive stage performance, Cardboard Computer refuse to compromise a single second of their episodic experience to include needless trivialities. Life on the road, the crippling pressures of American capitalism, the fading away of American idealism, a Lynchian take on the Great Depression, a Shakespearean road trip through the lost highways of a decaying nation, a lyrical adventure game by way of Faulkner.

Most effective is the game’s cunning utilization of audience participation, redefining the modern concept of interactivity to express profoundly personal attachments to memory, alongside the past, present, and future; to strangers and the places they inhabit. Class struggle, coping mechanisms, strength in communities, the ever-present conflicts between humility and withdrawal, seclusion and adventure; all formulate the backbone of KRZ’s consistently-compelling whole, a road journey made all the more urgent by its sophisticated relationship with a computer-bound medium and modern-day capitalistic anxieties. Truly a grand elegy to rough-worn Americana, there is frankly no other game as thoroughly entrancing nor beautifully woven as this.

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