The delightfully simple Paperboy (available on Live Arcade since 14/02/07) has reminded me that there simply aren’t enough pacifist games, still less non-competitive ones. Being a conscientious objector myself, I would never handle a firearm (I’ve always turned down trips that promised this as a feature), I don’t believe in glorying in violence and I appreciate developers that bravely stay away from the easy visceral thrills provided by guts, gore and sex. Some bloody games manage to surpass their violent content, either by providing a more strategic air which moves away from the warlike nature of the game; others, like Call of Duty, claim there are historical lessons to be learned from shooting other people in the face. I take this with a large pinch of salt but at least it’s a move in the right direction.
Few games, save puzzle games, can manage what Paperboy does, to produce a game that involves slapstick humour (which, yes, can have an element of violence but always with humour and never designed to gratify by itself) and a compelling, difficult game mechanic without ever resorting to anything crude, nasty, violent. You have three tasks in Paperboy: to keep your paperboy pedalling despite the hazards of the course; to deliver your papers; and to get to the end of the street on time. There’s an optional fourth task, to maximise your score by smashing non-subscribers’ windows, dealing with burglars and stopping fights; essentially anything that can be construed as antisocial behaviour from the viewpoint of the paperboy. It’s a game about doing the right thing that disguises itself as rebelliousness and that’s why I think it’s great.