The RPS 2021 Advent Calendar, December 3

Phew. Ready to open the third door? There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but if we go through it all methodically and make sure everything is in the right place, then everything will be fine. It’s weird how much you can put in a box, isn’t it?

One more box down! That’s right, it’s Unboxing!

Alice Bee: Most of the people who play Unpacking really enjoy it and think, you know, it’s a fun and cute game about unpacking boxes every time you move. Until they hit a bit. This is the bit with the diploma. You will know it when you see it. And you’ll go, “Ohhhh. Oh no. Oh noooo. “And there’s a good chance you’ll recognize a moment like this in your own life.

Unboxing is ideal for several reasons. One is that unpacking in real life sucks, but unpacking (the verb) in Unpacking (the noun) is a beautiful game. Each box is a grotto of rustling paper delicacies, full of pixelated little treasures. Plates that collide as you stack them in the kitchen. Small souvenir models collected during trips abroad. Brightly colored t-shirts and pajamas that hang in your wardrobe or fold up perfectly to tuck under your pillow.

In each level you have to unpack a life – the same life, as it grows and matures and collects new possessions, but gets rid of the others – and put everything away. Put towels and shampoo in the bathroom and clothes in the closet, and cleaning products under the kitchen sink. That’s the puzzle, I guess, because you can’t unbox the next move until you understand the previous one.

But then there is the other side of things. This is how you get to know the person you are unpacking. You see their favorite cup accompanying them over the years. Changes in their fashion sense. The kitchen utensils they accumulate over time. You put them through ups and downs – bad relationships, fun roommates, moving back to their parents, finding their own home. You are there for everything, you decide which cabinet will be the one where we will keep the glasses.

An isometric cutaway of an artist's desk in the Unpacking game, complete with a fancy drawing tablet and computer plus lots of cute desk toys

I think when people talk about environmental storytelling, they shouldn’t be wondering whether or not there is graffiti saying, “I HATE ZOMBIES! Or, “WHO ARE THE REAL MONSTERS ?!” Instead, they should think about unboxing. They should think about what that means on a level when you open a box and take out a certain photo that you recognize from before. A moment that’s an emotional punch, but takes up a very small part of the game. Or what it’s like having to put glass objects together to make room for your favorite books. How it feels to see your old childhood bedroom occupied by a craft office. The triumph when you first move into a place that has a whole room for your office.

Catherine: There is no bigger villain in games in 2021 than Unpacking’s first boyfriend. Just fuck off your shoes!

About Debra D. Johnson

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