Called a game The hidden and unknown (opens in new tab) released this week on Steam with an absurd price tag of $1,999.90. The twist is that the self-published game is purposely shorter than two hours, meaning it can be played without going over Steam’s playtime limit for no-questions-asked refunds. However, if you don’t have $2,000 to blow on this game temporarily, don’t worry: I’ve played it and you’re not missing out.
The creator of The Hidden and Unknown goes by ThePro and told earlier this week The gamer (opens in 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 just not buy it.
“I don’t want to get people into financial trouble, I just price my game the way it feels right to me, which is my right,” said ThePro.
The developer made similar comments PCGamesN (opens in new tab)and said the game is about sharing their story and “making people understand that even when you’re in a bad situation, you can work with what you’ve got.”
Oh, I’d say it’s about much more than that.
The Hidden and Unknown begins with an eight-minute Star Wars scroll describing an imbalance between male and female energy that is rendering Western men infertile due to testosterone deficiency, making women increasingly masculine, and ultimately leading to the end of the humanity. So it turns out that this $2,000 lesson in “philosophy” is exactly the same retrograde gibberish that YouTube manhood gurus post for free every day.
After the introduction of a time-travelling AI entity that perfectly balances the male (“thinking”) and female (“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 depicted visually, just the locations, which are rendered clear using an AI image generator.
The story consists of incongruous anecdotes about Brian’s childhood that, while apparently drawn from the creator’s own tumultuous life experiences, are mostly mundane: football practice records, times he seemed smart in class, going to bed and waking up the next morning. become, notes about an online game he played. The few passages that evoke sympathy are overshadowed by the point of the whole: Brian’s transformation into a testosterone-rich superman whose ex-girlfriend can no longer manipulate him (he read Sun Tzu’s Art of War) and whose depression is thwarted by masculine habits such as enough sleep and exercise regularly.
I’ve never written a gender essentialist manifesto about western men’s estrogen poisoning, but there are certainly immature old diary entries and short stories that I’m glad I never had the impulse to publish. If I had, I hope I would have also used a pseudonym and charged $2,000 to read them, so thanks to ThePro for that amount. With luck, they’ll appreciate those choices one day, too.
On the other hand, without the stunt prizes, The Hidden and Unknown might have been completely ignored like so many other bad games and novels. 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 pre-release, simply says, “Would buy it again. 10/10.” The next one says, “Worth every penny.”
The third review skips the sarcasm, calling The Hidden and Unknown the “worst game ever made” and “pointless, misanthropic garbage”. That reviewer does note that they received the game for free, so the axiom that you get what you pay for still holds true 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 under two hours, just in time to get their money back. I like the playful, non-contextual design, but I think I prefer the maze example.