It’s happened again, folks. As utterly exhausting and cyclical as this is, another developer had the audacity to release a game that was the right length for what they wanted to do, and here we are having the conversation about whether short games can be good, actually.
The culprit, this time around, is Unpacking. It’s a humble little game by the same (Aussie) developer of Assault Android Cactus, and it has been very warmly received. As a zen-like puzzle game about the experience of moving, it’s warm, relatable, and by all accounts a delight in execution (we haven’t got a review on DDNet yet, but we are working on it!).
“Unfortunately,” there’s also around four hours worth of raw content in Unpacking. Cue the useless tantrums.
“It’s beautifully stylised, tells a warm little story, and you find yourself very attached to the character’s life dolt through their possessions very quickly,” writes one user brain-splat. “What little content there is is (sic) beautifully put together, there just isn’t enough to justify picking this one up for full price… lovely little game, but I just can’t recommend it because of hour little content it has.”
At the risk of becoming an Unpacking shill account, I’m fuming the top Steam review is negative because of the price.
Give me a tightly focused five-hour game for $30AUD every day of the bloody week. It’s nothing new, but the perception of value in games is deeply warped. pic.twitter.com/giCpeeaWJw
— Chris Button (@BibbyBhoy) November 3, 2021
I saw red. Like the most temperamental bull in all the land that spots a dude wearing a bright red jumper, this kind of brain-splat infuriates me, because, as usual, it’s a case of the gamers demonstrating a completely warped understanding of both how art works and how art is valued. In doing so they’re actively trying to ruin art for everyone else.
I know I’m very much beating a drum I’ve already pounded so hard that it has holes in it with this little op-ed, but it’s worth repeating because this industry and its consumers continue to slide in the wrong direction. And so, to repeat the foundations of my very well-worn argument:
Pacing is a precious thing and a critical component of every artwork that every artist, in every field of the arts, needs to carefully consider. To hear the gamers talk, though, all that matters is that you keep shoving stuff in, endlessly, no matter what it is, and no matter what it’s actually adding to the experience. These people must look at the 14,000 or so episodes of Days Of Our Lives and see the greatest work of visual art of all time, because it’s the longest. The rest of us laugh at the thing that exists exclusively to fill the meaningless void that is life for really, really bored people. But the point here is that every single one of us can agree that it is content-rich. It’s spread over more than 700,000 hours, after all. I just did the maths. Jesus H. Christ. You actually want that in video games?
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb