I recently got around to playing Unpacking, the ‘moving house simulator’ from Witch Beam, and I think it may just be the cosiest game of the year.
Described as a “zen puzzle game about unpacking a life”, Unpacking is a series of levels that follows the life of a person as they move between homes. You’re tasked with unpacking their boxes full of clothes, homeware, and sentimental items, finding a home for everything they own.
This means flicking between rooms; filing away DVDs onto living room shelves, setting up a PC in the study, and stacking dishes into the kitchen cupboards, tidying and rehoming all these lost possessions. Each time you do it, you feel the whole place come together piece-by-piece.
masterpiece of narrative design
They say there’s a lot you can learn about a person simply from the things they own. This is demonstrated clearly through Unpacking’s gameplay. You’re never given a glimpse of the game’s protagonist. Instead, our entire perception of them comes from the items we’re shelving.
They have a football and have some trophies, so they must enjoy sports. They also have many arts and crafts tools, meaning they’re a creative person. And they own a lot of books, so we know they’re well-read. All of this achieved through the possessions they own, and not through dialogue nor needless exposition.
You also learn more about them from the items they decide to keep around too. The protagonist may keep a stuffed animal or a favourite book from childhood all the way into their adult years. Maybe they get a little tattered and worn over time, but its appearance with every new level is very telling of their history. On the other hand, the items the protagonist decides to chuck away and replace does a similar job of expressing their personality.
Meanwhile, the levels themselves also tell a story of their own. I shan’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t played Unpacking yet, but there’s a sequence of levels slap bang in the middle of Act 2 that perfectly tells a story of its own. Just an action as simple as a trickier puzzle, a new gameplay feature, and the presence of other characters the protagonist lives with tells a lot using a little.
cosiest game of the year
So, why is Unpacking the cosiest game of the year? Besides the warm, cuddly vibes of the game’s simple pixel-art aesthetics, I found the whole act of unpacking the protagonist’s life to be a rather therapeutic one. It reminds me of moving house myself, tidying away all the different trinkets and trophies I’ve accumulated over the years. Items that mean nothing to other people, but hold great value to me.
In its purest form, Unpacking is a game that reminds us about the beauty of being connected to our possessions. Whether that’s an expensive piece of tech, a family photo, a favourite coffee mug or a particular jumper. Whether we realise it or not, our entire homes are moulded to our personalities. It’s what makes each and every one of us unique.
Featured Image: Witch Beam