Cultural commentators will argue for years over the various causes that precipitated the rapid decline of print media, but why bother? We all know the moment that marked the beginning of the end for newspapers. It was Atari’s 1984 release of the sinister interactive video propaganda known as Paperboy. The anti-journalistic screed portrayed the nation’s young paper-delivery boys as heedless scofflaws who disrupted traffic, befouled lawns, and terrorized non-subscribers with their tightly rolled missiles of inky newsprint destruction. Is it any wonder that Americans everywhere turned their backs on this thuggish enterprise?
Although Atari’s primary goal was the ruination of modern journalism, Paperboy also succeeded as an amusing arcade game—that handlebar-shaped joystick was hard to resist. And now word comes by way of Wired that a marketing outfit in Toronto has created a modern, unofficial tribute to Paperboy. It’s called PaperDude VR, and it combines the quaint newsprint charms of Paperboy with the modern gaming trend of making you look like an enormous dork. Players of the custom rig simply strap a virtual-reality box on their head, mount a bicycle that only has one wheel, and activate the NSA-approved Kinect camera to immerse themselves in a Paperboy-like world. From there, you pedal the bike and make throwing motions with your empty hand to play, while everybody else in the room laughs and tags photos of your goofy half-bicycle-riding ass on Facebook.
Still, looking silly is probably a small price to pay for what appears to be a heck of a lot of fun. As the Wired article points out, PaperDude VR offers the chance to recreate an experience—a kid’s paper route—that is vanishingly rare in 2013. That’s a nice thought. But the marketing honcho behind the game does a better job of expressing PaperDude’s appeal. “It’s amazingly satisfying when you get one of the papers in a mailbox,” he says. “It’s also entertaining throwing one through a window and hearing the smashing sound.” That’s right. Paperboy has never been about the delivering, or the bike-riding. It has always been about the smashing.