Magical Realism in Kentucky Route Zero

I have just started Kentucky Route Zero, yet already I am blown away by its depth of imagination and the strangeness of the world. One of my favorite locations in the game so far is the Marquez farmhouse. Upon arriving there, I looked at the graveyard on top of the hill. The description told me that it was full of family members with different last names. There was also a large tree directly next to this graveyard. These two details, combined with the name of the location—the Marquez farmhouse—made me think of the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his book 100 Years of Solitude.

100 Years of Solitude is a really fantastic book, in every sense of the word. It follows many generations of the Buendía family through births, deaths, wars, and everything in between. Mundane descriptions are interspersed with incredible events, such as a village where no one ever dies. The “family” tree and the family graveyard outside the house reminded me of this novel. In addition to this, the daughter talked a lot about her family and sent me on another quest to talk to other family members. Several of the characters also seem not to remember what happened to them recently, which is what happens in the novel when an entire town is infected with a strange amnesia.

The Marquez farmhouse

This novel is a well-known example of magical realism, which is something that Kentucky Route Zero is pushing me to think about more and more. Magical realism is most often considered solely in terms of literature, but I think it can be applied to Kentucky Route Zero as well. Some of its defining characteristics are:

  1. A real-world setting suffused with fantastical elements
  2. Magical or supernatural events are presented as commonplace (the author doesn’t remark on them)
  3. Room for mystery and lack of traditional exposition

An incident near the very beginning of KRZ demonstrates all of these characteristics. The game starts at a very recognizable place—a gas station off the highway. I first noticed something slightly off when I went into the basement of the gas station. There was a table of card players who were missing a die. When I tried to return it to them, they had all disappeared. The gas station owner upstairs knew nothing about these people. Yet, the game continued as if nothing remarkable had happened. This is an extremely strange place to begin a game, and this incident has still not been explained. The game seems content to leave the mystery there.

I’ll end with this quote, which I found on the Wikipedia page for magical realism: Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.”

Magical realism characteristics source:

0 thoughts on “Magical Realism in Kentucky Route Zero

  1. I, too, am very impressed with this game so far. Thanks for putting a name to genre for me. What other things stood out to you? The ones I wrote down were the artificial limb factory, Weaver and Shannon no longer being the same age, and the “decorative” graveyard. Also the floor of bears, but that was more amusing. Anyway, just wanted to hear more.

    1. I’m only in Act II, so I haven’t actually gone inside the artificial limb factory yet. I was really struck by the Zero itself. The idea that new realities could come into being just based on what direction you go in is really strange and fantastic. Also, the way that you get the Zero to appear (I won’t spoil it here) is really surreal. I’m still not sure I understand it completely.

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