Review: Unpacking (Steam)

I reaaaally wanted to like this game. Unpacking stuff in a low-stress environment is exactly the kind of thing my brain likes to do to relax, so this seemed like the perfect game to unwind. Also, I'd heard that the game had a nice story to follow as well, so that sounded like a lovely cup of tea. But. This game is so stressful, and I don't even know where to start unpacking (ha) my problems with it.

One: the rooms you're unpacking stuff into *aren't empty*. You have to try to jam the heroine's stuff in around other people's things. So it's not a beautiful clean slate that you paint with belongings, but more like a messy jumble of someone else's things that you have to work around and hope they don't mind. Some items are even locked in place and can't be moved! I was actually surprised by how much stress this triggered, and I wanted to call a house meeting to discuss the toilet paper situation.

Two: many of the items are tiny, blurred, or otherwise unclear what they are or where they go. I would have preferred the interface have a label and location for what something is when you pick it up. Turns out the game has Strong Opinions on where you can store certain things. Can I put the tiny guitar in my bedroom under the bed? NO. It must go in the living room. Often it's hard to tell where something goes because you can't tell what it is. I had to google how to get past the first level because a cute little purple notebook was actually a *diary* and I had to put that in a secret drawer rather than on the shelf with the other notebooks. I'd foolishly gone and filled the drawer with erasers and rulers and scissors, but those are supposed to go on TOP of the desk, which is how I know that the devs don't have cats.

I quit when I moved back into my childhood room and I was supposed to know that one of the photos wasn't supposed to go on the corkboard with all the other photos but was instead supposed to go in a cabinet where the heroine won't see it (unless she...opens the cabinet??). I was supposed to realize that the tiny photo was of a romantic ex because there was a tiny thumbtack through his tiny face, and I was supposed to guess that instead of "throwing it in the trash" or "storing it in a file folder" that the right answer was to lay it face-up on a cabinet shelf where it will be seen every time the she opens the cabinet. Intuitive!

Three: The story. There isn't one, not really. We're supposed to construct a story ourselves based on wild assumptions regarding the things our heroine owns--it's like walking into a stranger's house and trying to construct a Sherlockian narrative over why they own what they do and then calling that a "story".

Whilst consulting google to figure out what to do with the previously-mentioned photo, I was startled to realize that I was supposed to assume that our room occupant is a world traveler because she collects tiny Eiffel Tower and Leaning Tower of Pisa figurines. WHAT?? I had just assumed that she liked those places! Maybe she collects the figurines because she *can't* afford to travel (if you can't see the real thing, you can at least see the replica) or maybe her dad travels for work and brings back souvenirs for her. I used to have an impressive collection of shot glasses from around the world for that very reason; it doesn't mean I've ever left the country!

We're apparently supposed to chart the "changed interests" of the main character based on which belongings she keeps and which she trims out of her life over time, but having just lost a lot of personal items of my own to a basement flood, I am too aware of how many factors other than "loss of interest" can cause a beloved stuffie or photo to leave one's life. It's strange and frustrating to feel like I'm supposed to access the story through a series of unintuitive logic leaps. Maybe the heroine kept the pink pig stuffie and trimmed the other animals because she loved that one best, or maybe the others were destroyed in a flood, or the thumbtack ex threw out her things, or maybe one of her roommates accidentally stole the stuffies during a move out when they packed them by mistake. Sherlockian analysis is a myth, as Sir Terry Pratchett demonstrated far better than I ever could:

"Samuel Vimes dreamed about Clues. He had a jaundiced view of Clues. He instinctively distrusted them. They got in the way. And he distrusted the kind of person who'd take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, "Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fallen on hard times," and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man's boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he'd been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!" --Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay


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