Kentucky Route Zero by Night: Act 3 (Xanadu, Rock Mine)

I’m outside of time again, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. This time I’m headed to Belgium. I’m going to land in Brussels, and then I’m going to drive about an hour to a little town called Genk. It’s in the Flemish part of Belgium, so people are going to speak Dutch there, mostly—but practically everybody in Belgium also speaks French or German or both.

Later in this trip, I’ll learn that each linguistic group actually has its own government, federalized under the national one and existing alongside the figurehead monarchy. It sounds like chaos, and it maybe even sounds volatile, but everybody in Belgium, or in the Flemish part at least, or in Genk at the very least, seems to regard the system as first and foremost a waste of money.

Anyway, I don’t know any of that yet.

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I only know that they speak Dutch in Belgium, even, because I noticed that they were making flight announcements in Dutch as well as English and French, and I decided to wiki it. (When every announcement has to cycle through three languages, you have the time to wiki all sorts of stuff from the runway).

I barely speak French or German, but man, I really don’t speak Dutch. So there’s a better than even chance that, sometime on this trip, I’ll misunderstand or be misunderstood. Which isn’t usually a big deal. Usually it’s merely awkward. But occasionally it’s disastrous.

It won’t be at all clear what this has to do with Act III of Kentucky Route Zero unless you’ve played it. If you have, then you’ll probably know that it’s about misunderstanding, ambiguity, lapses in communication, leaps of faith. You’ll know about Ezra’s conversation with Junebug about how you can never be yourself until you’re sufficiently specific in how you describe yourself, and your relationships to others.

You’ll know that finally finding the Zero may be a matter of rendering the familiar unfamiliar, and vice-versa.

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You’ll know how ambiguities—including intentionally confusing, deeply nefarious ambiguities—have profoundly affected Conway’s body, and his sense of self, and how they may have just changed his career path as well. As he says at the end of the act, that’s just the way these things go sometimes.

And you’ll know about Xanadu, which (without giving away anything specific) is a Synecdoche, New York-style thought experiment about worlds within worlds, representations within representations, simulations within simulations—and also, appropriately enough, an attempt to create a surreal, alluring, vectory game-world within the surreal, alluring, vectory game-world of Kentucky Route Zero.

Not just a game within a game, but a version of this specific game living within this specific game.

Making sense of things, and sparring with the possibility that some things are nonsense, and worse, that you may lack the tools to know sense from nonsense.

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Like going to a country whose language you don’t speak, whose language you don’t even know until you’re already on the plane, harried business traveler that you are.

My misunderstandings were mild this time around. Misunderstanding how to use two lane roundabouts. Having a hell of a time finding my way back to the airport. Finding it more or less impossible to explain to the proprietor of The Rock Mine in Genk that I’d like dinner as well as drinks—maybe because my German is awful and my Dutch is worse, or maybe because they play their metal at the appropriate volume, which is to say pretty loudly, at The Rock Mine.

That kind of thing. No big deal.

Nothing life-changing. Nothing urgent.

Not this time, anyway.

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