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‘Unpacking’ Uses Small Moments To Speak Loudly

‘Unpacking’ Uses Small Moments To Speak Loudly

A moving story.

There isn’t anywhere in the flat where I can hang my award. The large window and cupboards in the bedroom take up all the wall space and in the living room I don’t have the ability to move any of my boyfriend’s objects. In a moment of painful realisation, I know where it will have to go: under the bed, next to a rolled-up yoga mat and some weights.

Unpacking is full of these small-moment statements that speak so loudly. Putting the award under the bed and ending the level crystallises the uncomfortable suspicion that this is not the right person for my character. I look at all the boyfriend’s grey bedlinen and dark clothes next to my character’s colourful notebooks, dresses, and cuddly toys ,and I know where this relationship is going.

Sure enough, the next level sees me unpacking boxes in my character’s childhood bedroom. I don’t know who left who, and I don’t see any of the bust ups or small break ups of the past two years. I only know that she’s out of his flat and looking to make a new start.

There’s no dialogue in Unpacking, just the process of taking objects out of boxes and finding a place for them in your new home. But developer Witch Beam stuffs the story into the seams of this simple activity. I was surprised how happy it made me when, after unpacking the same travel souvenirs across multiple flat moves, there was a new model of a windmill suggesting a holiday to Amsterdam - my character was travelling again. In ordering and reordering this character’s life I became so invested in their wellbeing, in their successes, and their mistakes.

Unpacking |
Witch Beam / Humble Games

I love how even though the relationship wasn’t right for my character, we still see that they took things from it. After moving out you’ll find a set of coffee-making equipment identical to those in the boyfriend’s flat. Did she get them in the split? Did she get her own set? Either way, it shows the truth that even the relationships that don’t work often leave us changed forever in small ways. Again, it’s a small moment, but it spoke loudly to me.

After playing Unpacking, it’s hard not to look at your own life in terms of the game. What is it you would carry between homes? What would you leave behind? I’ve moved more than 10 times in the past decade, crossing the country chasing different jobs and opportunities. I’ve lived on my own, I’ve lived with strangers, I’ve lived with friends. As I’m writing this I’m looking around my room at items which have been with me all that time, like an old teddy I’ve had since I was two, a red earthenware mug that has the telltale pink lines of where the handle broke and had to be glued back together. They’re with me every day and it’s easy to forget that they tell a story about me, even if it misses out a lot of the details of my life. Unpacking is a short game that says so much. It’s a clear highlight of 2021, and one I’ll be thinking about and recommending for years to come.

Featured Image Credit: Humble Bundle