Paperboy was an arcade game released in 1985. It was ported over to a lot of different home video game systems as well. You play as a paperboy that has to deliver papers every day to the newspaper subscribers. If you miss a subscriber, or vandalize a subscriber’s house you will lose their business. If you lose everyone’s business or fall off your bike enough times you lose the game. If you can deliver papers all the way through to Sunday you win the game. You can gain points by vandalizing non-subscribers’ homes, delivering papers, and picking up extra papers. You stay alive by avoiding obstacles like fire hydrants, break dancers, cars, the Grim Reaper, tornadoes, toy cars, and skateboarders to name a few. Some of this sounds illegal to me. Some of this sounds confusing. Let’s explore the world of Paperboy.

When you start the game you are greeted with the front page of the paper you are delivering that day. This only happens on Monday, when you lose, or when you win. The paper proudly states in its top headline, “Amazing Paperboy Delivers!” Apparently it is a slow news day. Maybe The Daily Sun (the newspaper in the game) announces all of its hires no matter how inconsequential. More importantly is an article on the side of the page titled, “Mysterious Vandalism Baffles Police, Residents.” This gives us the knowledge that vandalism is not tolerated in this town. The police will look into it. They may not be very good at their job, but they are investigating. In the California Penal Code they define vandalism as maliciously damaging, destroying, or defacing “with graffiti or other inscribed material” any real property that is not your own. Cal. Penal Code § 594(a) (Deering 2015). So when the titular paperboy throws newspapers through windows of citizens that choose to not subscribe to the paper he is most likely committing an act of vandalism. This is even more apparent when the paperboy earns points for knocking over gravestones with his newspapers.

The paper from Monday
The paper from Monday

This seems like it is a city wide practice. There was a story in the paper about vandalism before our paperboy started his job. Apparently paperboys around the city are abusing the little amount of power they have and are destroying property. You gain points when you vandalize, so it seems like the company that hired you to deliver papers is rewarding your actions. You also have to leave the paper behind because you cannot turn around in the game. This means that the police find newspapers at every crime scene and cannot figure out who is behind the vandalism. But when you lose the game the police get a hot tip. The newspaper article that announces the end of your career includes the subheading, “Accused of Negligence, Vandalism.” Now that you are of no use to The Daily Sun you are thrown under the bus for the actions of paperboys city wide. Though it seems that the paperboy world and ours have similar vandalism laws, they appear to have a much less competent police force and a newspaper company engaging in a city wide attack against anyone that isn’t a customer, and they have a perfect fall guy.

Those two failing institutions aren’t even the weirdest things in town. While the paperboy is biking he will encounter men brawling in a driveway, women chasing after him to hit him, cars that do not care about bikes, and other dangerous traps. When the paperboy gets caught by any nuisance he has to get back on his bike and start delivering papers again. There is no mention of any compensation given to the paperboy for what has happened to him. If he gets hit too many times he loses his job. Vandalism is apparently illegal, but injuring bikers is seemingly acceptable. No one gets in trouble for hitting the paperboy with a car, hitting the paperboy with a newspaper, hitting the paperboy with a fist, hitting the paperboy with a remote control car, or rolling a tire at the paperboy. Alternatively, the paperboy does not get in trouble for biking into parked cars or people break dancing on their property. This leads us to the exciting conclusion seen in many of these articles. Characters in this video game live in a world where there is no liability for injuries caused to others, and there is likely no crime for battery.

Paperboy meets the Grim Reaper
Paperboy meets the Grim Reaper

Finally, there is a training course at the end of the paperboy’s route every day of the week. This isn’t too alien of a concept. It is like having a skate park in your neighborhood. As long as the operator of the park has a license and the area is zoned correctly there shouldn’t be a problem. The training course has jumps over rivers and walls that move. But we already learned that what the world of Paperboy cares about is damage to property, not damage to humans. So even if the owner of the training course does not have liability insurance, she will probably still be safe from the law. It just doesn’t seem like anyone gets in trouble in this society for harming others or for creating unsafe situations for others.

Paperboy starts out by painting the picture of an idyllic town where kids still deliver papers door to door on their bikes. It quickly evolves into a nightmare town where people are acting crazy and the Grim Reaper hangs out on the sidewalks. The police are ineffective, the newspaper promotes vandalism, and there are no consequences for the actions you take against your fellow man. I’ve never been able to beat Paperboy, but now I’m not sure I want to go back and try.


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