‘Unpacking’ is a cute game about the power of seemingly mundane objects
Unboxing a life seems … a challenge. Not just in terms of the workload, but in a way that goes further. What things of your own can you take forward? Can whatever you keep close at hand fit into the new life a new home promises? I haven’t moved since 2007, which means it’s been at least a teenage life since I last unpacked my bags.
As such, these are questions I didn’t have to ask, but these are a few that I thought about as I began to consider my first shot in over a decade and that I played Unpacking, a cute puzzle game about life, its many movements, the obstacles associated with it and adapt to the margin of it all.
In Unpacking, you will unwrap your life one phase at a time. It’s the latest in a growing trend of ground games supporting mundane, but relatable, topics, and it’s a relative success for those reasons. Each of the levels is a room, or a series of rooms, with boxes to empty. Inside each of them is a small part of you: a soccer ball from your youth, plush toys you’ve accumulated over the years, photos of friends and past relationships, etc. Over the years, your living spaces become denser (mainly) and larger. Your wardrobe is packed, your office is cluttered and you are so so many games and movies in your entertainment center.
The “challenge,” a term I’m going to throw out incredibly loosely, is to find where it all fits best. It’s a logical puzzle, so as long as you’ve been in a kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom, you’ll be able to replicate a functional house sufficiently. While there is a certain degree of flexibility as to where you can put certain things, there are absolute places where you are supposed to put most of whatever you unpack, although an accessibility option can. turn it off completely, giving you complete freedom. There is a joy in doing everything right, but the biggest part for me was playing a game that, in small chunks, included the relationship we build with the things we collect.
Unpacking is a game which quite understandably likes the finer details. It’s a game where you unpack boxes, hang or place your things, and decorate your home, so of course the little things are what matters most. When you hang a frame or poster, Unpacking gives you the wiggle room, for example, to place them on just about any wall, allowing you to customize the many rooms and apartments you move into. The little ways you could stuff your stuff, like flipping your pillow over and hiding your music player in it, were the times I knew the game understood the importance of “stuff” and our rituals with it all.
But while I have greatly enjoyed my time with Unpacking, I found myself wishing there were more “secrets” like this hidden everywhere; more knowing looks on the player on how our interactions with a space can be deeply personal.
The heart of Unpacking is an emotional roller coaster, whose rhythms are familiar and delivered in the same way if you have played a game like Florence before that. The first room you unpack is a Kid’s Room in 1997, the first time your character has had a room on their own. There’s an air of chipper and excited energy in the air as you put up posters, adorn your toy drawer, and set up your first desk. It’s a tacit acknowledgment of how nice it is to call a place yours. This excitement only develops when you are propelled into adulthood and your first solo apartment for college, or the first time you have roommates and the first time you move in with a partner.
Things do take a dark turn eventually before picking up again towards the end, but in those moments below, the game exudes a silent sense of devastation as you and you struggle to figure out how to adapt your life alongside others. What survives in the ruins of realization that you don’t fit? Is a space really a home if you can’t thrive in it? The answers to these questions seem obvious, but I enjoy the game that allows us to explore our character’s journey through these moments. Without ever expressing explicitly how the character feels (as there is no dialogue in the game, only a phrase of mood text at the end of each level), the broad strokes give you enough guidance while still giving you enough freedom. place to fill your own image. .
There is a certain intoxicating pride in crafting plans that you think you can implement, as they rarely happen so easily. And so it’s not a subtle irony when Unpacking, a game about planning a space, has something to say about lost plans, the pain of collapsing them, and how to rebuild. It is not a deep game, but an empathetic one. Unpacking doesn’t have the answers on how best to stay on track, or how to get over that pain and start over. It is simply the personification of a confident gaze, a hand on your shoulder, and an expression of a warm, yet firm, “You got this.” Things will get better. ”
I know a little something about having to rebuild in the face of personal meltdowns. The past year and a half has been particularly trying amid immense loss on a global scale, a waning sense of self and stability, personal tragedy and, of course, the destruction of the best plans. elaborate. Just like the game, I don’t have the answers on how I got here and will continue. All that I (and Unpacking) can offer is kindness and grace go a long way. Unpacking communicates that kindness and grace through a careful display of nostalgia and a light touch.
The game title is scribbled in marker on the menu and as it is written, the unmistakable sound of a marker engraved on cardboard follows with every hit. The soundtrack often pairs minimalist riffs or courageous guitar and ukulele motifs with airy synths that transmit tender warmth, and the game’s color scheme barely uses a shade darker than a slightly crimson red. Unpacking not only wants to draw you into his world, but to sell you his great fantasy and reframe our way of seeing movements. They can be painful, but each is a potential step to the best place where the game sincerely believes we’ll all end up.
Finally, I love “thing” and what it tells you about the people to which it belongs, that is to say Unpacking was always going to be a game for me. I like to imbue unnecessary mundane tokens with deeply personal meaning, turning them into artifacts. I cherish so much that I have collected through stumbling through life and relationships, and I am constantly mixing things up looking for ways to make it all fit. I will try to do this although I hope to move soon and go on my own for the first time. I believe that you persist in your possessions as much as in the places you’ve been and the people you’ve spent your life with and that these “things” come together to tell stories that we either forget or stop telling us. They take on cosmic significance, even if only for ourselves, and as long as these things persist, so do you.
While Unpacking didn’t tell me outright, and won’t tell you either, I feel like he understands those feelings better than almost anything I’ve played and I think I needed them.