While the world economy accelerates and adapts to the 24/7 demands of global capitalism, these small rural towns remain inflexible, clinging to the desperate, state-sponsored myth of coal jobs returning even as employment opportunities evaporate with automation, outsourcing, and renewable energy sources. The permanent residents of Kentucky Route Zero are few, but Elkhorn Mine stubbornly stays rooted in place, greeting Conway with an ominous fog and darkness that lends the scene a supernatural quality. Shannon is introduced here; her first exchange with Conway involves either the fear of being displaced or the existence of ghosts, both of which encapsulate the central themes of the game. When Shannon asks if he believes in ghosts, Conway poetically replies, “I do believe a place can be haunted,” further adding that people can be haunted too. As Shannon and Conway venture deeper into collapsed mining tunnels via a rickety old minecart, they plunge into a space untouched by the movement of time aboveground. Equipment lies abandoned, and flyers and drawings remain tacked up since the accident. Elkhorn no longer functions as a mine but rather as a crypt, a mausoleum of time trapped in amber (or trapped in water, in this case). Indeed, by switching off the light while riding in the minecart, the flickering sparks overhead illuminate the literal ghosts that haunt the mine. Kentucky Route Zero is not a violent game, but there is violence present here: institutional violence, corporate violence. Borrowing from Larose, spaces like Elkhorn Mine are “covered in scars,” symbolizing the great sin that haunts the game. Over the course of the acts, anger over the preventable death of twenty-eight miners gives way to profound sadness, revealing the tragedy at the core of Kentucky Route Zero’s ghost story.
Read the full column at Haywire Magazine.