Making the "Right" Choice in Paperboy and Beyond


New member
Oct 30, 2012
Welcome to the Escapist, Lizzy!

Good first article. I have a feeling I'll be learning a lot about retro games here. My parents didn't get me a SNES or Genesis since I was too young for it at the time. Being that my first gaming experience was a split between N64 and Windows 95, these articles are going to be interesting.


New member
Dec 2, 2009
Welcome to the Escapist!

I hadn't thought of paperboy as a moral choice game: I always went the true nihilist approach and tried to get all of the points. Then again, I was in grade school at the time...

The hardest moral choice I ever had to make was probably in fallout 3 with the living tree. I actually just gave up and walked away without solving it.


Artificial Person
Apr 3, 2020
You know, games must be art because nothing says art like pretentious articles reading way too much into something [].

Hey, at least it's not as bad as Game Theory, where the speculation is so far removed from the actual material that it's basically fan fiction.



New member
Aug 31, 2014
Great first article & well written as usual! makes me wish I had a C64 to go play on now. must get back to gaming.


New member
Sep 28, 2011
So it begins

Only ever played the Game Gear version of PaperBoy. Typically I went in to either "ace it" or "Smash it. PaperSmash it all!"
I dont know if I would call that a moral choice over dicking within a game.

So then "Let The BACON Reign!"


New member
Feb 2, 2011
oh paperboy...

I remember i fondly.

Do you wreck driveways and windows, or aim for mailboxes?

Do you hit dogs and the elderly, or bullseye a coffee cup?

Good times


New member
Mar 13, 2009
Sylveria said:
And suddenly Paperboy takes on a whole new level of moral complexity.
I never know if the artists are planning this or just having fun. But it is great to see the final result being surprising.

GiantRedButton said:
Sometimes choices are better when not affecting the game that much.
In the first Mass Effect game you needed either a high Paragon or Renagade Score to pass certain tests like keeping Wrex.
The result was that playing anything but entirly paragon or entirly renegade was gimping your character.
The endresult was that Mass Effect only had a single choice instead of many.
Will you be Paragon or Renagade?
And that choice is made at the beginning.

The Witcher games do it much better in my opinion.
Happened in Infamous also. You couldn't have as many powers if you played neutral. The impact of choices shouldn't cripple the growth of a character. The impacts should reflect in scenario options.


New member
Jan 21, 2015
What's especially interesting about PaperBoy is that it manages to have the moral aspect without shoving it down your throat and without having it be a bland black/white moral choice system. Which is why I like the link to the GTA series. Sure, you have to do some pretty grim stuff to progress the story in a GTA game, but just the act of driving around without murdering random people is a choice in itself which makes it more interesting to do it. Sort of like not killing enemies in Deus Ex/HR or Thief: Deadly Shadows, not because you aren't allowed to but because you are (within the objectives' limitations).

I'm all for having branched out ability trees and/or storylines depending on actions, but I'm glad that attention is brought to the more... natural? organic? approach. Feels more immersive, and if you can't be arsed about it you can just block it out entirely.


New member
Aug 19, 2011
Modern games need more moral choices with consequences that aren't "be good" or "be evil", both from perspective of having choices where there's no right answer and from perspective of choices being made through gameplay as opposed to pressing menu buttons.


New member
Feb 24, 2015
Nothing beats a bit of nostalgia.

I was 6 years old when I first played paperboy, it was one of the first games I ever played. I remember finding it incredibly hilarious that I could throw papers through peoples windows and smack them off random bystanders. I was never very good at the game, but I didn't care; I got a lot of enjoyment out of the fact that I was doing something that would get me in serious trouble if I was to do in real life.


Independent Game Journalist
Feb 21, 2015
A good start for Lizzy!

I always thought Paperboy was interesting... But could never get good at it. :(

runic knight

New member
Mar 26, 2011
Great first article. And a good topic to look at again.

Morality in player choice expressed in game design, it seems we have slid away from more free-form methods of letting players accomplish their goals in a way that doesn't feel "good or evil" in choice. As others mention, a lot of story games boil down to choice between an obvious good or bad, with consequences reflecting the creator's interpretation or being just a different color of the same result. A game like this though doesn't make any sort of moral statement, rather, every action tends to have a response, and it is up to the player their playstyle (or even their morality in the game) based off of many smaller choices. Being a jerk can create more obstacles, but can be more fun to play. Trying to not be a jerk can require more control and through the mastery of that also be more fun to play. I like that.


New member
Mar 13, 2015
Congrats on the new gig, Lizzy!

I think you rightly identify the ability to behave 'unlawfully' as one of the great draws of the gaming medium.

There's something deeply cathartic (dare I say, escapist) about being able to shrug off societal norms and occasionally behave in an outrageous fashion. It's one of the things that makes gaming - for lack of a better word - FUN. Whether it be throwing newspapers at senior citizens or setting off nuclear weapons in Megaton, there's something undeniably enjoyable about the freedom to play the part (or not) of a sociopath while gaming.

Who hasn't, when playing a 'morally ambiguous' game like Skyrim, GTA or Mass Effect, enjoyed the rush of occasionally just being an arsehole? Whether it be quicksaving before going on a rampage in Whiterun, punching a journalist in the Citadel or just randomly ploughing over pedestrians in Los Santos. The ability to indulge in such outrageous behaviour and experience the subsequent consequences is what separates gaming from the linear experience of film or TV.

Conversely, it is sometimes rewarding for gamers to subvert these expectations and behave 'well' when faced with tantalising opportunities to wreak havoc. Some of the most fun I had playing games like Deus Ex or Dishonored was ignoring my ability to commit mass slaughter and trying my very best to be a good boy and avoid detection.

As you correctly identify, this 'freedom of choice' is integral to the experience and should continue to be celebrated as one of gaming's greatest assets.


New member
Jun 2, 2010
Welcome Lizzy. This was a great read. We sometimes overlook the level of detail and carefully tuned Gameplay that was designed into so many of our fondly remembered retro games. I had never really noticed the freedom or morality built into Paperboy before. I always just recognized it as a great but difficult game.

On an unrelated note, I wonder how many readers here don't even know what a Paperboy is or rather was? They seem to have gone the way of the Milkman and Rotary Telephone.


Disciple of Trevor Philips
Jan 15, 2015
Moral dilemmas and the ability to exercise free will in video games are all well and good, but the real question is how you managed to recover from the gut punch of misogyny of not being to play as a Papergirl?

I'm old enough to have played Paperboy on an arcade machine, but it was hard to pay that much attention to it when Spy Hunter was sitting next to it.


New member
Jan 29, 2015
Lizzy Finnegan said:
springing into motion to avenge it's fallen handler

Lovely first article, though. I've never heard of the game at all - but it seemed like something I would have enjoyed when arcades were still popular.