In a way, I think I’m glad this game took so much time to be completed. I first played KRZ around the time Act III released – around five or so years now – and after just seeing the game all the way through to the end for the very first time, all I can think is how I’ve grown alongside it. Five years ago, I never really thought too much about Capitalism other than my own micro-level, everyday experiences with it. I had the idea that I was queer, but I never took the time to ask myself what that actually meant while I was too busy trying to fit in with everyone else. I never really thought of places as “haunted” or recognized the tragedy of daily struggle so many deal with. I simply moved along in a way that felt safe and expected.
I only just completed Act V. I spent most of yesterday and part of today playing all of Kentucky Route Zero from the very beginning (yet again). The prose always had a pull to it for me, but this time around I felt something deeper: more personal, more intense than even the very first time I played Act I. Following Conway and Shannon and Blue and everyone felt so much more empathetic for me as the player. Their cynically romantic words shared with one another pierced me and any pretense I might have held thinking I was “just playing that game again.” It was as if I had heard Johnny and Junebug talk about ‘playing’ their identities for the first time; as though I had never really recognized why Ezra’s all alone when you first meet him. Maybe I was just dense as a player before, but as I played Kentucky Route Zero this time, I felt as though it was truly speaking to me like it never had in these five years I spent with it.
The final act – I won’t spoil anything here, even in blurry form – exemplifies this feeling for me. Worrying less about narrative conventions, and focusing more on who all of these people are, it ultimately left me wistful and empowered and bruised. From the fifth act’s very first moments of interaction to the climax that somehow manages to top Act IV’s – these last several years waiting from acts IV to V were not wasted for me. As I grew personally – more knowledgeable, more confident, more sympathetic to those living lives I can only attempt to understand – I also grew as someone who could see what Act V seeks to offer its patient players. And now I leave it with the reassurance that I am better than who I once was.
But what can you even say about a game with as long-lasting a presence in the cultural zeitgeist as this one? Now that the bow has finally been tied upon it? For me – I suppose – I’ll always remember it less as “my favorite game” (though it certainly is that), but more as a work that truly, honestly made me want to be and do better: to neither fret over others’ evaluations or apparent expectations toward me. Kentucky Route Zero made me realize over these past five years that I can appreciate being me. That even if I happen to live within a cold system that seeks to commodify my very existence until I one day die, I can always look toward myself and those I choose to hold close, and I see a better life then what was once set out before me. I can see that despite it all, I can go another way instead.