Kentucky Route Zero and Creating a Sense of Place

Kentucky Route Zero

Kentucky Route Zero

I feel it’s part of my job as a science fiction and fantasy writer to create a sense of place. What does that even mean? Here’s how I’d describe it: it’s more than just creating another world (if you write secondary world fantasy). It’s about making sure you capture an essence, a feeling about the place. If you can’t do that, then I think you let your readers down.

Personally, I think I did that with The Exile’s Violin and the Tethys Chronicles in general. Vorleaux, to me, has a corrupt heart of haze-coated brass and bronze. I think that sense of place permeates all the scenes that take place in the city and even influence how main character Jacquie reacts to the world around her.

Still, I want to do better, to truly feel deep in my bones that I’ve written a place with a sense of place. I don’t care if that sentence is reductive and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Part of the reason that this is such a big deal to me is I feel like I come from somewhere without a sense of place. I live in the suburbs of San Diego, and I’ve lived in suburbs of one city or another. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough, but I read things or play games like the brilliant Kentucky Route Zero and see how brilliantly the creators are able to evoke a sense of place.

I’ve never been to Kentucky, but after playing that game, I feel like the locations in the game could really exist out there in the backwoods of coal country. The visuals, the aesthetic, and the music–oh God, the music–all work together to make me feel like I’ve been taken to somewhere real even though I’ve never left my desk chair.

I want to make something like that. This isn’t envy I feel in my bones right now. It’s a desire to be able to so effortlessly* make my reader understand the soul of my place and my work/novel/game/whatever. So my hat’s off to  the two men at Cardboard Computer for what they’ve accomplished with just Act I of their game. My hat’s off to all the writers out there who’ve done what I’m still striving to do.

*I know effortlessly isn’t the right term. It takes a ton of skill and craft to pull something like that off and make it appear effortless to the reader or player.