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Video Game / Unpacking

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Create a satisfying living space while learning clues about the life you're unpacking.
Unpacking is a zen-like puzzle game developed by Witch Beam, published by Humble Games, and released on November 2, 2021 for Steam, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, and on May 10, 2022 for PS4 and PS5. It was also released on Android and iOS on August 24, 2023.

The Retraux-style game is about a woman who has just moved into a new home and every level tasks the player with pulling items out of boxes and placing them into each new home. The game is a very casual game with no timers or scores in any of the levels. The game does contain a narrative that plays out through every level through the items that come to each new home as well as the other items left behind.

This game unpacks the following tropes:

  • 100% Completion: The game has 27 stickers you can collect by completing hidden achievements.
  • Ambiguously Bi: In a sense. The protagonist's first love interest is a man, but they break up and she ends up with a woman. However, due to the minimalist nature of the game's plot, we don't actually know the reason for the breakup, so it's possible it's a case of Incompatible Orientation and she could just be gay.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The protagonist's girlfriend/wife is shown as having darker skin in the final photograph. The exact shade is difficult to make out due to the setting sun, but she's a much warmer colour than the protagonist.
  • Addressing the Player: A strange case. The album used as a save file is an actual item in-universe, and since it has the name you entered that's presumably the protagonist's name, even though they clearly have their own identity. Hitting enter on the blank field defaults to "Sadie", which might be her default name.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: The protagonist has a few pony toys in her childhood collection.
  • All There in the Script: The protagonist's girlfriend's/wife's name is only revealed in one of the soundtrack titles: "My Dear Mali".
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Normally, you have to put all the items in the right places in order to move to the next house, but you can toggle it in the Accessibility menu so that you can just place them anywhere to clear the level.
  • Babies Ever After: In the final level in 2018, the protagonist and her partner have a whole room dedicated to their baby's nursery. Given that among their belongings is what seems to be a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and one of the album messages is "We're so looking forward to meeting you!", it would seem that the baby is still on the way as of moving into the final house, but the protagonist's wife/girlfriend is holding said baby in the final picture, so it's not much longer.
  • Big Fancy House: The final home, at least in comparison to the other places where the protagonist has lived. Not only does it have an upstairs and downstairs, it also has extra rooms in the form of a second bathroom, a walk-in closet and a nursery.
  • Bland-Name Product: There is an Operation-like board game seen in the 1997 level called Procedure. There are also Fictional Video Games seen when a game system is turned on, called Cactus Carts, Lash 'n Dash, Android Cold War III and Witch Sports.
  • Bookworm: The protagonist is a very avid reader as demonstrated by her ever-growing book collection that you have to sort out in each level of the game.
  • Company Cross References: One of the protagonist's action figures is that of Assault Android Cactus, the main character from the eponymous game also developed by Witch Beam.
  • Creative Closing Credits: While the credits can be viewed anytime, completing the game showcases pictures of the houses you've decorated while "Unpacking a Life" plays, and the credits end with the protagonist singing the song to her new family.
  • Delicate and Sickly: The protagonist becomes this in 2012 where after her breakup and briefly moving back into her childhood home. She has to use painkillers and a heating pad and in 2013 after getting her own place again, she has a walking cane.
  • Developer's Foresight:
    • There is a sound for every item being put down on every surface.
    • Certain objects, like pill bottles and baby rattles, will make sounds when you shake them, just like the real things.
    • Should you fulfill certain requirements in the environment just for fun, like for example making an equation out of fridge magnets, you will be rewarded with a sticker and an achievement.
    • You'll still be able to clear the level if you put all the items (including existing ones) in the wrong places. It's called Dark Star Mode, and the protagonist will comment on how messy she is at the end of each level.
    • You'll get a different comment from the protagonist at the end of each level depending on what room you're looking at before moving on to the next home.
  • Environmental Symbolism:
    • Some of the most nostalgic items for the protagonist, most notably her stuffed pig and a particular purple cup, become torn and chipped when she's in a low emotional place, then get repaired and refurbished and stay so for the rest of the game when she recovers.
    • One of the later houses is noticeably run-down and ill-maintained, reflecting the protagonist's emotional state after she splits with her boyfriend and essentially starts from scratch. The next level shows that same house in much better condition, showing the protagonist as healing.
    • In general, the whole game is built around this; What the protagonist takes with her and leaves behind through all her various moves is all part of the storytelling.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a game in which you unpack boxes into rooms.
  • Excuse Plot: On the surface, you are someone who is moving into a new home, and nothing more. A deeper narrative unfolds as every stage passes, exploring an unseen protagonist's life from childhood to adulthood.
  • Flushing-Edge Interactivity: You can flush the toilet in the bathrooms of each house and get an achievement for flushing all of them.
  • Gamer Chick: The protagonist owns an ever-increasing amount of systems and games, and seems to be especially fond of her Nintendo GameCube. Her girlfriend/wife has some games of her own, though not as many.
  • The Ghost: The protagonist is never seen, but the player learns her story as they help her unpack. We eventually see her and her girlfriend/wife and baby at the end of the credits, but their faces are turned away from the player.
  • Girls Love Stuffed Animals: The player character has a huge affinity for stuffed animals. Her plushie collection seems to increase with each level of the game with a few surviving from the beginning in her childhood bedroom to her new home at the end of the game. Her girlfriend brings her own plushies when she moves into the protagonist's apartment.
  • Grand Finale: The final level has double the rooms of the house the previous two levels were set in had (though a few are very small).
  • Happy Ending: The protagonist and her girlfriend/wife move into a nice house fit for them and their child, with the protagonist's artistic work being successful enough for her to make a living off of.
  • An Interior Designer Is You: You help the protagonist move into different houses and decorate them, learning more about her as you unpack her things.
  • Hello, [Insert Name Here]: You can input any name onto the album cover, as the protagonist otherwise has No Name Given.
  • Jewish and Nerdy: The main character spends her entire life moving nerdy stuff like video games, one of the many toys in 1997 is a Hanukkah dreidel, and among the things unpacked in 2013 are a menorah and hamsa.
  • Lighter and Softer: The final two levels are notably prettier and lighter in atmosphere than the ones before them, most likely reflecting the protagonist's own mood.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: The protagonist's girlfriend, who moves in with her in 2015. Her clothing is quite a bit more traditionally feminine, and she owns more makeup and cosmetics than the protagonist.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: The boyfriend comes across as this; he has a sleek and modern apartment in the heart of the city and owns a next-gen console and fancy coffee-making equipment.
  • Meaningful Name: The protagonist's girlfriend/wife is called Mali, which rather fittingly means 'jasmine flower', given her love of flowers and gardening.
  • Nature Lover: When the protagonist's girlfriend moved in for the 2015 level, she has a fair amount of potted plants and gardening equipment amongst her possessions.
  • No Periods, Period: Absolutely not the case; the time you spend trying to figure out how to cram three types of pads and five identical packs of tampons into the same bathroom drawer is about equal to the time you try to gather all the panties and socks.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: A downplayed example, as there is a basic outline of a plot regarding the protagonist's life but a lot of details are left ambiguous for the player to fill in themselves and make up their own story for the protagonist.
  • Occidental Otaku: The protagonist's massive amount of anime posters and minifigs, manga, and books based on real Japanese novels (alongside general fantasy ones) make this pretty clear.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: In the first three levels, the protagonist has a soccer ball and a soccer trophy. Also in the third level, she has shoes and hand chalk for rock climbing, and a Frisbee.
  • Photo Mode: The game has a built-in camera feature that lets you take pictures of the rooms you're decorating. You can choose between different frames and filters and also put collectible stickers on the photos.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: Consistently, though decreasingly so as time goes on, the protagonist decorates her bedrooms with posters of her favorite shows and games including the ones she's worked on.
  • Production Foreshadowing: One of the Fictional Video Games shown is TemPoPo, Witch Beam's upcoming game at the time Unpacking was released.
  • Queer Colors: The protagonist's girlfriend/wife has rainbow-colored underwear that you can unpack.
  • Remixed Level: Two of the eight levels revisit an old location. Firstly the 2012 level is a remixed version of the first one from 1997 but with mostly new furniture and the addition of a bathroom. Secondly, the 2015 level revisits the previous level (2013). The game keeps track of your progress this time so most of the stuff from 2013 is still there exactly where you placed it, the challenge is to add even more stuff.
  • Retraux: The game has a 16-bit graphical style.
  • Scenery Porn: The views outside of the windows are very pretty given the pixelated style of the game. The protagonist's childhood bedroom has a lovely late summer view of some trees and her boyfriend's apartment has a stunning view of the city.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Show Within a Show: The protagonist's girlfriend/wife has a collection of Anti-Hero memorabilia, including a signed poster for Season 2. It's ambiguous if the girlfriend/wife is the producer of the show or simply a fan of it.
  • Straight Gay: The protagonist left her student flat to move in with a guy, only to move back to her childhood home a year later, after a nasty breakup (what with her refusing to leave his picture out in the open). The last half of the game involves her moving into her first apartment as a proper adult, another woman moving in with her, and the two of them later moving into a two-story apartment with a nursery as the final level.
  • Suddenly Voiced: The ending song is sung by your character.
  • Tribute to Fido: In-Universe example - the protagonist keeps a pet beetle in the 2010 and 2012 levels. The succeeding levels have a painting of a cutesy angelic beetle as one of the items to be unpacked, hinting that the beetle died between moves and the painting was made to help the protagonist cope with its death.
  • Wham Shot: A minor case, but as the 2015 level begins, you're still in the same apartment from 2013, and all the protagonist's things are still there. But this time, there are new boxes of an entirely different color. For once, she's not unpacking into a new home...someone ELSE is unpacking into hers!
  • Wrong Guy First: 2010 sees the protagonist moving in with a man. 2012 sees her heartbroken and moving back in with her parents. Just a few years later, her girlfriend/wife moves in, and unlike the previous one, this relationship lasts.