Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
Every autumn is chock full of big games that tell big stories. If you want to be an assassin who travels a giant world defeating enemies, you can be that. If you want to be a cowboy who... travels a giant world defeating your enemies, that’s something you can go for. If this does not depict your fantasy, then you can be a black ops super soldier who, well, travels a bigger world than usual so that you can defeat your enemies. But I would encourage you, in this time of big games, to take a moment and play a small game about what it’s like to work in a pizza shop.
The Pizza Delivery Boy Who Saved the World is a visual novel that’s about a pizza delivery boy who isn’t really a boy. He’s a grown man, and he works in a pizza shop. Sometimes he has to run the register, and other times he has to actually make the pizzas, and most of the time he’s having to hear his boss insult him. His job could be better if everyone did their part, but they don’t, and being at work is a complete and utter drag.
Eventually, after a few pizza deliveries, he’s pulled into a plot about preventing the end of the world. Or a time loop. Or the destruction of the universe. It’s something like that. The story pays off in funny and heroic ways, and if you’re looking for clever writing that goes somewhere, then this is a game worth digging into.
But I’ll admit that what I find so compelling about Delivery Boy is that some parts of it are laser-focused on things that go nowhere at all.
I named my character “Bert,” and from a bird’s eye view, Bert’s life is difficult. His boss, Mr. Ahmi, is extremely abusive to him on both an emotional level and at the level of the work that he demands that Bert do. One gets the sense that the pizza shop, Proud City Pizza, is one of those restaurants that Gordon Ramsay is always screaming his way through, smashing pans together and violently gagging while telling grown men that they need to be honest with themselves emotionally.
And much like those restaurant invasion shows, Delivery Boy gives us these side portraits of the despair that can overtake a person doing work that isn’t gratifying for bosses who treat you poorly. The game’s protagonist has bad interactions with basically every coworker that he has. A woman who works in the kitchen refuses to cook pizzas pretty often. The other delivery drivers push the hard work off on other people, call out sick, and generally just make life hell for Bert, who just wants to do his job.
Crucially, the game isn’t painting these other characters as bad people (although their decisions make Bert’s life much harder). Instead, the game makes it clear that this kind of work, performed under a tyrannical boss who is trying to squeeze each worker for every last second and every last bit of effort, is profoundly unfulfilling. It saps life out of the world.
It might seem odd that a game about a pizza delivery boy who saves the world is also a pretty profound game at depicting the struggle of work in our contemporary period, but this is something that the production team at Oh, A Rock! Studios has been doing for quite a while. I wrote about their Nancy Drew parody games, the Francy Droo series, last year, and something from those games that I still think about is how everyone has to fit their investigating around their jobs. Francy and the always-excellent Bevvers are funny and fictional characters, but they’re still situated in an almost gritty realism of labor. No matter how fantastical or weird things get, the Oh, A Rock! Studios games always manage to take it all back to basic economics.
Or, well, economics and how happy workers can be in the situation that they are placed in. Over and over again, the protagonist of Delivery Boy talks about how he has to keep his job because it is the only one he has. Sure, maybe he’s qualified for other jobs, but no one is knocking down his door to help him out, and so he’s trapped between a bad boss and coworkers who are also trapped. Everyone’s mood tends downward. The truly extraordinary has to emerge to liberate him from this condition, and at the end, he’s not all that liberated after all.
What [The Pizza Delivery Boy Who Saved the World] depicts is common, but the fact that it depicts it is uncommon...
To its benefit, The Pizza Delivery Boy Who Saved the World never says that pizza delivery isn’t a job with dignity. In fact, it plainly makes the opposite case: people have lots of different jobs, and they should be respected, and the idea that some jobs confer more social status than others is a social ill.
Unlike most video games, Delivery Boy has the heart to depict a social situation and name a simple problem. Bosses that are cruel are bad, and when they are do things that victimize workers, they should be held accountable. Mr. Ahmi gets what is coming to him in Delivery Boy, at least up to a point, but what is worth noting is the fact that this comedy visual novel shows the difficulty of work in our contemporary period.
It does so without irony or satire or any of the wink wink nudge nudge methods that we rely on so much and that social media is absolutely chock full of. It puts a character in a very recognizable world, shows the problems, and asks us what we think justice looks like in the workplace. What it depicts is common, but the fact that it depicts it is uncommon, and I’d task other developers with thinking why games are seemingly so afraid to engage with the thorniness of work with the honesty that The Pizza Delivery Boy Who Saved the World manages.
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