The game that’s all the rage this week isn’t a glitter racing game or one gritty first person shooter. It’s not massive expansion to a beloved sim life. No, the game of this moment is a delicious little puzzle game called Unpacking, which simply charges you with the subordinate act of unpacking the boxes. I’ve been playing it for the last few days fully expecting Unpacking to present sharp and creative puzzles. I didn’t expect him to tell the story in chapters of a life so effectively without even a word.
Then I âmetâ the protagonist’s boyfriend.
Spoilers follow for Unpacking.
Unpacking takes place in a series of crucial movements that a woman goes through in her lifetime. On the first level, in May 1997, you are clearly a child, with your own bedroom and a raised twin bed, work. The next level, January 2004, shows what appears to be a college dorm or first apartment. In each of them, your goal is to unpack the boxes and place their contents where they are supposed to go: the clothes in the closet, the silverware in the kitchen drawers, etc. The challenge, as there is one, is to find the space.
With contextual clues at each stage, you can piece together what’s going on in the main character’s life at that time. Law books on the shelf? Well, she must be in law school. A GameCube lookalike packaged next to a muted gold gaming case? Like all of us, she loves Wind waker. Tums on the shelf and thermal patches on the lower back in the cabinet? Oh, she’s 30 now.
Read more: Successful puzzle game Unpacking Includes 14,000 (!) Audio files reproducing ordinary sounds
In September 2010, it is clear that the main character is moving in with a guy. Without even showing his obviously silly face, you can tell this boyfriend character is just the worst. (My colleague Luke Plunkett detailed a similar thought in his in-depth review of the game.)
You can get a feel for her personality by looking at the space: the all-grayscale decor, the bourbon shower gel, the guitar on the wall, the miniature sand garden on the shelf, the 50-pound dumbbells in the room. living room, 96-inch canvas art of an abstract sunset, sanitized thoroughness throughout. His house has all the hallmarks of a late 2000s bachelor apartment, a perfect composite of the moron’s apartment required from, dunno, pick a period romantic comedy. In this sense, the developer Witch Beam I have arrived.
“It was difficult to define a character just through their house and their items without leaning a little too hard on ‘This guy is just the worst'” Unpacking creative director Wren Brier wrote in a recent AMA Reddit. “I hope he’s not too terribly cartoonish!”
He is, but it’s not because of his business. (Vanity isn’t a sin. Neither is interest in sleek design and meticulous cleanliness.) That’s because he doesn’t care enough about compromising.
September 2010 is the first level in which Unpacking feels really cramped. Your damaged belongings, dolls, video games, and kitchen supplies will not fit within the level’s default setting. Instead, you also need to move the guy’s existing items around to make room. (There is also the feeling that you are invading someone else’s space, given the mishmash of aesthetic tastes.) You end up adapting everything, but you do the whole task on your own. It’s off-putting, to put it charitably, that this guy who was planning to move in with someone didn’t even bother to give a thumbs up for his new partner.
I’m at an age where some of my friends hit the “We’re moving in together!” Â»Chapter with their partners. I’m not going to put a number on it, and I won’t attribute any specific reason here, but a non-zero number of these friends no longer live with their partner. Either way, it’s safe to say that these splits were the result of two parties unable to come to a compromise.
There is an object in Unpacking you can’t find an easy place for, one that instantly reveals the depths of tree stubbornness like this: your degree. It doesn’t fit on the bedroom walls. He doesn’t fit anywhere in the kitchen. While you have leeway to move most of the items around her apartment, you can’t move her framed whimsical posters to make room for your diploma on the gallery wall. The only possible place for that? Under the bed.
On the next level, June 2012, you find your childhood bedroom.