Georgia Route Zero
In which mysteries are encountered, yet rarely solved.
Logic would suggest that I should have begun writing with this post. Kentucky Route Zero is the inspiration for this space, with its breathless mix of magical realism, forgotten geography and southern soundscapes. Much has been written already regarding Cardboard Computer’s acclaimed work, of course. This is neither a criticism nor macro analogy, rather an overlay of one story upon my own. It is partly an apologetic for a world which we are rapidly destroying.
Kentucky Route Zero (hereafter referred to as KRZ) is a game published in five acts, with interludes released after the final act. The acts were released periodically, beginning in 2013 and ending in 2020. If one is unfamiliar with its mechanics, KRZ proceeds as a point and click story with a subdued, classic feeling. One can chose actions or dialogue for its various characters, but ultimately it operates as a para-deterministic tale. It’s impossible to “beat” KRZ, or change the overall outcome of the tale. In this respect it functions as though one were listening to a campfire story: listeners can ask questions for clarity, but the narrative remains intact.
I first arrived at KRZ via its soundtrack, and that pastiche of folk, ambient drone, and electro pop contains enough intrigue to merit a standalone article. There are plenty of wonderful scores written in the world, however, and I’m not sure it would have been enough to carry me back to the written word.
KRZ’s first act begins with Conway, a delivery driver, at Equus Oils, a rural service station. Within his first conversation with a man named Joseph, Conway receives directions on how to obtain directions to Kentucky Route Zero. As its title suggests, the Zero is a central character in the game. Joseph’s directions describe a password which is like a poem and, sure enough, one has the opportunity to compose a verse from several lines when logging onto a computer. This is the first of many patently impractical or unrealistic conceits in KRZ, and the criticism Kentucky Route Zero faces seems to most often center around these types of moments. Indeed, the term magical realism itself is held as an excuse for sloppy or inane writing.
I have a difficult time with this rationale. Although we have made notable achievements in science, technology and engineering, it is foolish to apply a reductionist approach to all aspects of human life. At times, chasing causes and conditions in search of a fundamental source brings one further from the truth. This seems to be the case when we apply a dual lenses to a situation. In one, we can only see the effects of systems upon an individual. In the other, there appears only the effects of an individual upon a system. Either way, we heap praise of blame upon a subject based on which lens we employ. The vibrant tapestry woven through KRZ’s narrative more closely resembles the work of Italo Calvino, particularly Invisible Cities.
KRZ explores themes of community, identity, and transcendence within the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. I’ve thought of tackling some of these here, but realize that each is deserving of its own article. The cartography of a rural community evokes my own life in a small town. One of my initial thoughts in writing was to catalog quirky, forgotten places in rural Georgia. I usually visit such places alone, on a motorcycle, and they usually are the result of hours of aimless wandering. It became apparent that my descriptions would be artifacts, however, particular to my experience but perhaps unrelatable to you, dear reader. It is likely that they would present as pale reflections unworthy of consideration. In any case, as the hour draws late and the insects call into the night, I encourage you to find your own invisible map.
“Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude