Moving back home is a tumultuous and often depressing process. Packing everything you possess into boxes and then attempting to find new spaces for things on the other side drives you to evaluate the events of your life and the consequences they’ve had on you.
Choosing what to leave behind is often a tough task. Occasionally you unearth items you thought were long gone, and sometimes you unearth sad memories in the process. Unpacking eloquently and wordlessly explores all of these feelings.
The setup is quite straightforward. Our unidentified narrator moves many times between 1995 and 2015, and the player is tasked with helping her unpack at each new place.
We follow her from her first solitary bedroom as a youngster, crammed with cardboard boxes full of toys and books, through her college years and into adulthood. At each level, we’re shown an isometric image of each room in her house, as well as the stacks of boxes that have accumulated there.
Simply click on one to open it, then click on each item within to position it in the appropriate location.
You can put items anywhere you like, but certain things have definite places. You must place your silverware in the cutlery drawer and your laptop in a convenient location. You pick up new skills as you go.
The pixel graphics is basic yet well-designed, so you’ll never be confused about what an object is. Getting everything to fit, on the other hand, is an intriguing struggle, particularly when she starts to live with other people and has to fit someone else’s life in as well.
Some things she maintains for a long time – soft toys, D&D figurines, novels – while others fade away, and new ones emerge as she grows older. When you retrieve her soft stuffed pig from a box, it’s always a comfort to find that she still has it.
Although there is no conversation and very little text, we may piece together our character’s tale by the belongings she takes with her throughout her life – however it remains beautifully up to interpretation. We know she enjoys art based on her collection of colored pens and multiple sketchbooks, and it’s fascinating to observe how it influences her life. But there are also sad times.
She stays with a guy for a few years, and the whole time is tinged with grief — his apartment is tiny, city traffic roars by outside, and he has left very little place for her belongings. The high-school diploma she’s proudly displayed at every place she’s lived won’t fit on the grey-painted walls, so you’ll have to put it under a bed.
This apparent analysis of a crushed and confined personality is quite moving. Her next destination is her parents’ house, and you’re curious as to what they’ve done to assist her recovery.
Players are awarded with stickers throughout the game for experimenting with item placement in novel ways. I was rewarded for keeping the cookie jar on the highest shelf in the kitchen, out of reach of my usual snacking habits.
A love-heart sticker was also available for pairing two cuddly toys in an armchair. In these restricted and sensitive residential spaces, these little moments of player recognition have so much more meaning.
You should be able to finish Unpacking in around four hours, but there’s still time to go back and finish those sticker sheets. There’s also a camera feature for taking images of your homes, as well as a playback function, which gamers are already exploiting to create amusing animated shorts.
Even without these add-ons, Unpacking is well worth the price of admission for the relaxation and enjoyment it delivers, as well as the unique and creative ways it conveys story and meaning. It has also shown to be very sociable for a single-player game.
I’ve messaged friends about favorite products and ideas about the life and relationships depicted, and I’ve played with my kid, comparing our home design choices.
This is a simple game, but it has a big significance and purpose. It reveals us as much about our own lives, preferences, and experiences as it does about the people we’re associating with, just like any home drama.
One thing is certain: learning about this protagonist’s connections with her goods, lovers, and family, and how they effect her, is one of the most meaningful and poignant video game experiences I’ve ever had.
Thanks to Keith Stuart at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.