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'Unpacking' left me with happy tears in my eyes

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When I first downloaded the new game Unpacking, I thought it looked aggressively boring. Here’s a game about unpacking all your stuff - something I’ve done for real more times than I would have liked.

So, I found myself surprised, after three hours, finishing the game with happy tears in my eyes.

It plays simply - you’re shown a room with furniture and a bunch of boxes. Click on a box, and you’ll remove an item from it. You can place it in the room, and then move on to the next box. You might have to shift a few objects if they’re in the “wrong” place, and then, you go on to the next home in the character’s life.

But you can feel the character grow with each move. She gets better art supplies, her tastes in clothes change, and although she is an awful packer, she gets a little more thoughtful each time. I felt irritated as I unpacked into a boyfriend’s house who apparently wasn’t interested in making space for her - in his home, where I had to rearrange his closet to fit my character’s clothes, and in his life, where I had to put away my character’s diploma, proudly hung on the wall in her previous apartment. I was both sad and relieved for her during her next move, back into her childhood home. And I felt proud of her during her final move, where it felt like finally everything was right for her.

I’ve never experienced a game that has such a strong narrative without any dialogue, or indeed without any visible characters at all. The whole story is told through the artifacts of the character’s life, and where she chooses to live. It’s made me think about the things I’ve carried through my life, and what someone could infer about me.

Samuel McConnell is a games enthusiast who has been playing games in one form or another since 1991. He was born in northern Maine but quickly transplanted to Wichita.