When “Choices” Don’t Actually Change the Plot

[Kentucky Route Zero spoilers. If you’ve played the whole game, I would love to know your answer to the question in the last paragraph!]

At first, I approached narrative choices the way I do in most RPGs. In RPGs, I am an information junkie. I need to know every single dialogue ending to get the most information possible. So, more often than not, I pick the conversation option least likely to end the conversation. I quickly realized that this strategy didn’t work in Kentucky Route Zero. Once I saw that each branch was permanent (i.e., you can’t ask one question and then the other), I knew I couldn’t hoard information- only questions.

Weaver or the Zero?

I was stumped. It didn’t hit me until the beginning of Act II that my choices really, truly did NOT matter in terms of advancing the plot. I could get different bits of information based on which option I chose, but since I couldn’t go back to the same choice, in a way it didn’t really matter. At one point, I remember thinking that a random number generator could play this game for me- an A or B dialogue choice that advances the plot no matter what. (What is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure without branching endings?)

It wasn’t until I realized some of the dichotomies that were present in the game that I realized I did have some choice after all. It just wasn’t the type of choice I had ever experienced in a game.

I felt a real need to decide whether my Conway was a dreamer or a pragmatist. Whether, when looking at his truck, he would decide

                (It’s time to go.)

                or

                (They decide to stay a while.)

I had to decide what my characters valued. By choosing what questions they asked and the things they said, I got to outline their personalities. By choosing what people “said,” I got to choose what they valued most. In Junebug’s song, there were three different options for verses, and then a recurring chorus.

I understood that she may have been thinking about all these possibilities, in her mind. But the way the character presents herself to the other characters in the story world is through the lyrics she actually chooses to sing. After all, in this game the unsaid phrase and unasked question do not exist in the listener’s mind. Knowing the many conversation options that people had gave me a look into their personalities as an omniscient narrator that other characters wouldn’t have. For example. In this scenario:

The characters will only ever hear one of those problems. If you play the game only saying certain things, some people’s problems will never come to light in the diegetic story world. Being forced to choose only one dialogue option pushed me to actually choose what narrative would be present- even if it didn’t advance the plot in the conventional sense of gaming. I think this realization took the longest for me: that choices that describe interiority and value aren’t inferior to plot-driving choices- just very different.

Anyway, I digress. I think I am most interested in knowing if there actually were any narrative differences at some point. Did other people get different endings? Please let me know, I would really love to know if there is any sort of branching in the narrative. What were the flashbacks like when Conway is looking at the truck underground in the last part of Act III? For me, it ended up that he said something along the lines of… “and that’s when the drifting started, and I’ve been drifting ever since.” I was wondering whether this was at all affected by how often I clicked the dialogue options that focused on the abstract, rather than being goal-oriented and getting things done. I didn’t think that different endings might even be a possibility until, when interacting with Xanadu, I could assign research assistants to different tasks to make my Rational and Romantic percentages go up and down. So, in at least one other instance, the game did track what kind of actions/responses were happening and categorize them.

So- how did everyone’s endings go? Anything different at all?

0 thoughts on “When “Choices” Don’t Actually Change the Plot

  1. I feel like we had similar experiences. I struggled with my choices because I wanted to know everything but I couldn’t. I really like what you pointed out: “choices that describe interiority and value aren’t inferior to plot-driving choices”!

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