A game called The Hidden and Unknown (opens in a new tab) released on Steam this week with an absurd price tag of $1,999.90. The twist is that the self-published game is deliberately shorter than two hours, meaning it can be finished without exceeding Steam’s game time limit for no-questions-asked refunds. However, if you don’t have two grand to temporarily spend on this game, don’t worry: I’ve played it and you’re not missing a thing.
The creator of Hidden and Unknown calls himself ThePro, and earlier this week he told TheGamer (opens in a new tab) that the high price reflects the value of the semi-autobiographical visual novel to them. They encouraged anyone who can’t afford the game to refund it or simply refrain from buying it.
“I don’t want anyone to get into financial trouble, I just put a price on my game because it feels right to me, which is my right,” ThePro said.
The developer made similar comments to PCGamesN (opens in a new tab)and said that the game is about sharing your story and “letting people understand that even if you’re in a bad situation, you can work with what you’ve got.”
Oh, I would say that it is about much more than that.
The Hidden and Unknown begins with an eight-minute long Star Wars scroll describing an imbalance between masculine and feminine energy that is rendering Western men infertile due to testosterone depletion, causing women to become increasingly increasingly masculine and that, ultimately, will lead to the end of humanity. So it turns out that this $2,000 “philosophy” lesson is just the same retrograde gibberish that YouTube masculinity gurus post every day for free.
After introducing a time-traveling AI entity that perfectly balances masculine (“thinking”) and feminine (“feeling”) energies, the dogmatic preamble gives way to a less confident, mostly non-interactive visual novel about a boy named Brian. None of the characters are rendered visually, just the locations, which have obviously been created with the help of an AI image generator.
The story consists of incongruous anecdotes about Brian’s youth that, while ostensibly drawn from the creator’s tumultuous life experiences, are mostly mundane: accounts of football practice, times he seemed smart in class, getting laid and waking up the next morning, notes about an online game you played. The few passages that invite sympathy are overshadowed by the central point: Brian’s transformation into a testosterone-rich übermensch whose ex-girlfriend can no longer manipulate him (he read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War) and whose depression looks frustrated by masculine habits. like getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.
I’ve never written a gender essentialist manifesto on the estrogen poisoning of Western men, but there are certainly old, immature journal entries and tales that I’m glad I didn’t have the impulse to post. If I had, I also hope I would have used a pseudonym and charged $2,000 to read them, so I give credit to ThePro for that. Hopefully, they’ll appreciate those options one day, too.
Then again, without the price tag for the stunts, The Hidden and Unknown may have been ignored entirely, like so many other bad games and novels. In fact, it has three Steam reviews so far, which can’t be left by accounts that don’t own it, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been paid for. One review, posted prior to release, reads simply, “Would buy again. 10/10.” The next one reads: “Worth every penny.”
The third review skips over the sarcasm, calling The Hidden and Unknown the “worst game ever made” and “misanthropic, pointless garbage”. That reviewer notes that they received the game for free, so the axiom that you get what you pay for still holds in this case.
The Hidden and Unknown isn’t the first game to incorporate Steam’s refund policy into its design. Last year, a game called Refund Me If You Can challenged players to escape a maze in less than two hours, just in time to get their money back. I find the playful, meta-contextual design fun, but I think I prefer the maze example.