Through Conway, the main protagonist, players experience the callous indifference of a mining company towards its workers, the needless cruelty of a medical system designed to fleece before it cares, and a deeply personal tragedy caused in part by the need to self-medicate away the days. It’s working class oral history through the filter of a peyote trip, as touching as it is odd.
More an interactive narrative than a traditional adventure game, Kentucky Route Zero doesn’t allow you to shape narrative beats in any significant way, but it does let you colour them through dialogue choices. The book has already been written, but the game invites you to help turn the pages and scribble in the margins on occasion.
There aren’t any fail states. Your interaction with the world is limited to selecting objects as you walk through the surreal shadowy environments, conversing, and solving puzzles so simple they barely qualify for the label. Reading is the game’s primary mechanic; more of the playing of Kentucky Route Zero happens in your head than your hands.
But it’s so successful at conjuring a mood, at telling a unique story – or rather an anthology of smaller stories that coalesce – that it didn’t matter one iota my thumbs barely had to do anything.
Kentucky Route Zero is poetic, beautiful, profound and moving. And, if you care to dredge up a well-worn, now-tiresome debate, it’s also one of the clearest pieces of evidence yet that video games should be considered art.
Kentucky Road is available on Nintendo Switch and is classified PG.