One boy’s brave mission to supply every home on the street with toilet paper

Paperboy (1985 / 1991)

I’m sorry, but have you used the Internet lately? You go onto a website these days and you’re lucky if you can see any of the content. All the GDPR Suits are in your face with notices asking you for your cookies. What? Those are my cookies, you hungry e-whores, so get your own.

You get the feeling as well that this is something you really should be taking more notice of, like the app permissions on your phone. Click “Accept All” at your peril, because when your credit card details get harvested, milked for quite literally all you’re worth, your financial assailant will be perfectly entitled to point out that you gave them the express permission to do it.

Once you get past this information hoarding and onto the site itself, things get worse. I don’t really bother following the news these days, for many reasons really, but chief among them is how desperately poor the news sites have gotten. The title will be entirely clickbait anyway, but I can understand that – that’s what headlines have always been designed to do, grab your attention by teasing a juicy story.

Go online though, and when the unskippable ad has finished and the libellous piece begins, you’re lucky if you can even tell what you’re supposed to be looking at – there’ll be a paragraph, then an ad. Then another paragraph, then an ad. Then a paragraph that repeats something that’s already been said, but worded slightly differently.

Then the news site will completely undermine themselves by featuring the Twitter reactions of no-marks, as a way of getting “reactions”, before yet more ads. Now I know the red-tops are desperate for any online revenue they can get – I’m 31 and I’ve bought maybe five newspapers in my life – but there are some ways these news corps can help themselves, and not having completely unrelated autoplay videos is one of them. 

I suppose that’s still a slightly, only slightly better approach to what the broadsheets and other “esteemed organs” take, when they try to hit you with a paywall after you’ve read the first five words. Paywalls are easy for anyone with a bit of online nous to get around, of course, but stone me, even some of the old Tubgirl or Goatse photos don’t make me click out of there as fast as a paywalled article. 

But then, isn’t good journalism worth paying for? The problem is, that works both ways – and when news outlets are perfectly happy to have a number of their contributors being paid absolutely nothing at all for their words, then what chance do the good scribes stand? Nothing about a paywalled, ad-ridden, toxic comment infested site with articles from hacks with their Twitter profiles in their bylines and a severe political axe to grind, whether they’re left or right, nothing about this makes me want to buy a paper or subscribe to the Guardian anytime soon. 

Speaking as a highly regarded bus user, past the age of 26 when Maggie Thatcher would have regarded me as a failure, it doesn’t appear to be acceptable to read the paper on bus journeys anymore, either. They even did away with Page 3, for God’s sake. And that was a feature where Rhiannon, 19 and Tina, 20, got paid for their contributions. Not much, I’d imagine, but it was a fair shake. 

I’m probably just bitter really, as I once did an interview with the local paper, which never featured in the end, and I’ve hated modern journalism ever since. Mind you, getting the news out there actually used to be a lot more difficult an ordeal, and in all of this we’re forgetting the humble paperboy.

Do they still exist? Carrying backbreaking stacks of papers to local newsagents? Now there’s an outdated term – to readers under the age of 80, a newsagent is a shop that had a licence or some form of agreement to sell newspapers. A big selling point back in the day, probably a waste of shelf space now. Do the paperboys deliver individual papers to houses nowadays?

I truly wish I could have had a paper round as a boy, not for the wages obviously (tuppence-ha’penny a day, whatever that meant) but so I can give this almost-journalistic piece a bit more meaning and credibility. As it is though, I’ll just have to rely on 1985’s Paperboy, the most realistic paperboy simulator around at the time, available for… pretty much every device that electricity could power back then, really, but I own the NES version so we’ll check that one out.

Before even starting though, I find it wild that there was a whole video game, and a very popular one at that, devoted to a now extinct profession. Was there a Commodore 64 game about lamplighters, maybe? Atari games about wagon painters? If there were, I bet they were more fun than Paperboy. I bloody hate this game, you know. Everything about it, from the isometric camera angle to the ugly graphics to the rubbish controls, it all really winds me up.

Here’s the premise – you, underpaid, exploited, thick boy, up and out of the house earlier than literally everyone else, are tasked with riding your bike down some Podunk street and throwing propaganda rags at houses. Ideally, you’d get the papers nicely nestled inside their letterboxes, but what usually happens is that the boy will summon Herculean strength and launch the papers right through the residents windows instead, complete with a surprisingly well-rendered glass breaking sound effect. That’s a lawsuit up the ass right there, as the local townsfolk would say. And how many court cases could a paperboy financially sustain?

He’s got bigger problems than that, though. I was actually wrong to say that the paperboy is awake before everyone, so you can consider this a printed correction, I meant no confusion or harm, etc etc. Actually, by the time your slovenly boy takes to the street, it’s all happening: there’s dogs running about, having broken free of men out on the sidewalk trying to put their trousers on. Or off. Or maybe they’re breakdancing, we’re not talking about detailed graphics here.

There’s two blokes moving a sheet of glass up and down the street, a classic gag. There’s girls hula-hooping, which mightn’t sound so scary, but don’t forget that cooties is the number one killer of paperboys in America, so you’d better take notice. But equality as terrifying as cooties and probably the number two killer is the Grim Reaper himself. You know your luck’s not in when Death is waiting to get you on a friendly neighbourhood corner. But hey, what can you expect when you take a bike out onto the road? It’s always been the quickest way to make yourself unpopular.

There’s a badly made bonus level as well, and probably some other Easter eggs, but you really won’t get more than 10 minutes out of this one. I suppose to avoid any spurious defamation claims, I should say that Paperboy the game is a classic, fun, quirky little title that everyone can enjoy. Off the record though, this game is a pain in the arse.

Picture a news outlet with an insulting paywall, clickbait that doesn’t give you the answer, a smug journalist giving one side of the story, a made-up tale to unsettle sports teams, and typos, loads and loads of typos. That’s what this game is, essentially. Needless to say, apart from a wretched N64 title, Paperboy hasn’t been seen since. You know, even if the papers did make a comeback, I seriously doubt they’d be worth paying for.

2 December 2022

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