Unpacking is a delightful indie puzzle game in which players experience the story of a woman’s journey through various stages of her life as they unpack her belongings in each home she moves into. As the years go by, there are more and more things to put away, and some things are left behind as well, weaving the game’s story through the narratives of personal objects and the life experiences they reflect. The storytelling in Unpacking is brilliantly and subtly constructed, leaving players with a poignant tale about the ways love affects life and what it means to make a home.
Unpacking’s story spans 21 years and consists of 8 levels, starting with the main character’s childhood bedroom and progressing through each new home she moves into throughout her life. Players of this chill indie title are given a lot of flexibility as to how they want to arrange her home, and much of the narrative is told through subtle restrictions as to where specific sentimental items can be placed, which creates an impactful gameplay narrative with very limited text. As players begin to recognize each object and uncover new things in each level of Unpacking, the main character’s interests, values, and growth over time become apparent, evoking the same nostalgic feelings of reflection that moving and unpacking can cause for many players in their own lives.
The simplicity of Unpacking’s gameplay allows the narrative to shine through as players meditate over each object and think about where they want to place it. From the charming pixel art style to the nostalgic references to toys, gaming consoles, and other items that players may find familiar, there’s a depth to each object that gives them meaning not just for the main character, but for the player as well. With its zen environment and loving attention to detail, Unpacking stands as a reminder of how special the things that are often considered mundane can truly be.
1997: The Childhood Home
In the first stage of Unpacking’s story, the main character moves into a room of her own for the first time, giving her the freedom to make the space her own. The year is 1997, and there are a ton of the most popular 90s toys to be unpacked, like her Tamagotchi and Troll doll. She has a souvenir of a red double-decker bus from London and a collection of plush toys that follow her throughout her life, and her interest in art and gaming shines through as well with her Game Boy and art supplies.
2004: First Time Away From Home
In 2004, the main character of Unpacking moves away from home for the first time, scoring a dorm with a private bathroom for her first year at university. The rooms are small, but she no longer has to share a bathroom with her sister, and she has to learn to cook for herself in a kitchen of her own. Her pig and cat plushies accompany her to university, and she has a new souvenir of the Eiffel Tower from Paris to add to her collection that suggests her family has taken another trip to Europe. Along with new art supplies like a set of colored pencils and a posable mannequin, she has her own computer with a big CRT monitor for her university work.
2007: Moving In With Roommates
After graduating from university and earning her degree, the main character of Unpacking moves into an apartment with two roommates in 2007. Conveniently, her new roommates are also the group she plays tabletop RPGs with, and they seem to share similar interests with the cosplay project being worked on in the living room. For the first time in Unpacking’s levels, players must find space for the main character’s belongings in a home that’s already filled with things as she gets settled into her new living situation. She has a new souvenir of the Leaning Tower of Pisa from Italy, and she’s collected a new chicken plush as well as a cute little figurine of a chick. A work uniform with an apron, a hat, and several button-up shirts suggest that she’s gotten a job as a barista, and she’s upgraded her art supplies with a digital drawing tablet as she develops her skill as an artist.
2010: The Boyfriend’s Apartment
The main character of Unpacking moves in with her boyfriend in 2010, and players must find space for her in his city apartment. This is her first time living with a romantic partner, and the move has made their relationship feel more serious for her. By this point, she’s started to play the ukulele, and she has a new pet beetle that needs a home somewhere in the apartment.
She’s also kept her faithful pig plush as well as the chicken, and her work clothes suggest she still has her job as a barista. However, there doesn’t seem to be much room for her in her boyfriend’s apartment, and it’s a struggle to find a place to put all of her things. There’s no room for her diploma on the wall, and for the first time in any Unpacking level, she doesn’t have room for an art space of her own.
2012: Back Home Again
After breaking up with her boyfriend and moving out of his apartment in 2012, the main character of Unpacking returns to her childhood home to stay with her parents for a while. It seems to have been a painful breakup as a photo of them as a couple can be found, but unlike the rest of the photos that go on the corkboard, this one must be placed away in the cabinet where she doesn’t have to see it. If players do hang it on the corkboard, she’ll put the pin through his face.
Most of her old plushies are still in the room, and her poster can be found and hung up as well, creating a poignant feeling of nostalgia and comfort in the midst of the separation. There’s a sewing machine on her desk as her parents had been using her room while she was away, but players can rearrange the space to make room for all of her things. She’s gotten a bit more serious with the ukulele as well, and has bought a book to learn from since the last level of Unpacking. While the childhood bedroom feels smaller to her than it did before, she has a space of her own again where she can get back on her feet and begin to heal after the breakup.
2013: Her First Apartment
Several months pass in this great indie game, and in January of 2013, the main character of Unpacking’s story starts fresh and moves into her own apartment. There’s plenty of space for all of her things, and she’s able to create her own home for the first time. She has a queen-sized bed all to herself, and her favorite pig plush, now patched and worn, is joined by some of her other childhood toys. A new souvenir of a windmill indicates she’s taken a trip to the Netherlands during her time at home, and she has a growing collection of chick figurines to show off as well. For the first time, she has a separate office that she’s able to use as an art space, and color drawings of a pig and a duck can be hung up on the corkboard as her designs and ideas for a project begin to develop.
2015: Moving In Together
Rather than unpacking the main character’s things again in the 2015 chapter of Unpacking, players are tasked with unpacking her girlfriend’s belongings as she moves into the main character’s apartment. Her girlfriend brings plenty of her own collections into the home, and her tiger plush joins the main character’s pig. She’s also a plant-lover, and there are potted plants to place in every room of the house. As her clothes and belongings begin to fill the space, the house starts to feel a lot cozier and more lively than it was in the previous Unpacking level. In addition to their relationship, the main character has also progressed as an artist and has several awards on display in her office, suggesting that her career is beginning to take off after all those years of hard work.
2018: The Final Home
In the final chapter of Unpacking’s story, the main character and her partner have bought a house and are beginning to build a family together. They’re expecting a baby and have a nursery to unpack this time around, and all the sentimental items that have appeared in each move now settle in to turn this house into a home that both the main character and her partner can share together. At this point in Unpacking’s storyline, the main character is a professional artist and has published a children’s book featuring the pig and duck designs she’s been working on for the past few years.
There’s plenty of room for all of their plants, magnets, and chicken figurines, and there’s even a backyard big enough for them to consider getting a pet. Their belongings have mingled in both sets of boxes, and players use the items that have been carried from move to move to create one final home for the couple to live many happy years in. In the final shot of the indie game, the happy couple can be seen sitting in the backyard together with their baby, and the main character plays the ukulele for her family as the sun sets. Unpacking’s story weaves a beautiful tale of hope, hurt, and healing as players follow the main character through the major changes of her life, and the game uses subtle storytelling through gameplay to convey what it truly means to make a home.
Next: Unpacking Review: A Calming Lifetime of Memories in Moving Boxes