Work and the Zero

[Some spoilers for Kentucky Route Zero]

Through an unfortunate series of events, Kentucky Route Zero’s Conway finds himself in debt to a mysterious distillery in the Zero, staffed entirely by strange glowing skeletons. With no way to pay, the distillery hounds him into working for them.

His traveling partner Shannon Marquez suggests that he could always just run from them. Run, far away from the curious spatial anomalies of the Zero, but Conway doesn’t want to. When they are granted the opportunity to rest and relax at the Rum Colony, a beach-side bar in the Zero with a literally infinite menu of Rum cocktails, Conway explains his reasoning.

He is getting old. His body is starting to fail. His boss, Lysette, may be going senile and is shutting down her shop. Small businesses throughout the Zero are slowly closing or being subsumed by the shadowy Consolidated Power Co.

He’s watching the decay of the world, and he, like everyone else, is powerless to stop it. How do you live in a world dying around you? How do you soldier on? How do you motivate yourself to keep living, to not want to drown yourself in rum cocktails? For Conway, the debt with the distillery is a blessing in disguise. If he just held a job, if he just worked, greased the cogs of the machine, then all will be well. Whether the world decays or lives, he could live with himself, that he did something dignified with his time.

Embedded in Conway’s story, in the nether shadows of the Zero, is this message: there is a hidden irony in late-stage capitalism. It swallows the world, and rots it from the inside, then offers us the appearance of an antidote, a salve for our anger and nihilism: work.