I just finished playing the game Out For Delivery, and it really deserves some acknowledgement. I’m gonna talk through the events of the game, so if you don’t want to be spoiled at all, I suggest you just play it.
Out For Delivery is a 42 minute playable documentary following a food delivery courier. It takes place in Beijing on the day before lunar new year, which also happens to be the day Wuhan first shut down because of COVID-19. This was obviously a coincidence, but it ends up adding a lot to the game.
I believe the main themes of the game to be about the plight of being a courier. Food Delivery is something a lot of us use often, even more so now, and I think generally gets taken for granted. The stereotype “Pizza Delivery Boy” is not really an accurate reflection of the job in the world we live anymore. With every restaurant on Grubhub, UberEats, Postmates, what have you, the job is significant more arduous. While you get a look into the monotony of the job during the delivery, the themes really shine through from the dialogue captured between. You see them complain about the physical labor, long hours, lack of pay. There’s a lunch break scene where if you looking at the right conversation, you’ll see courier complain about how he can’t even afford his lunch. The situation ridiculous because these people deliver food all day, they shouldn’t be worrying about if they can afford to eat. They do, however, because the cost of living is so high. You’ll catch someone complaining about their mortgage payments. It all comes around to the problems with urbanization, where the cities have all the jobs, but the jobs don’t pay for the cost of living. I see this clearly having searched for jobs and apartments in NYC and the wages and rent really don’t match up. The game makes you empathize with these workers, and I think their low wages is a global issue that needs attention.
I want to touch on the COVID-19 aspect of the game. This isn’t a game about COVID at all, it’s only mentioned in the very beginning. This is the very beginning, so actual knowledge about the situation isn’t widespread yet. Still you see Beijing, one of the most populated cities in the world, really empty. You still see facemasks everywhere, it really captures how the city environment changed during 2020. The increased reliance on food delivery really just makes this strengthen the main themes of Out For Delivery, and it serves as a really interesting snapshot of the start to the pandemic.
I also want to touch on why I really appreciated that this was a game. It’s a documentary, so it has very little user interaction. You can look around, zoom in, and interact with a phone that shows you the delivery status, subtitle logs, and narrative contexts. I think if this was a simple movie on youtube, it wouldn’t really be as successful. The reason it works is because I understand that this is a boring job, but you still get a 42 minute tour of Beijing and get to look around at the sites. The exploration aspect helps carry your interest through this experience without hurting the main themes. The player helms what they want to look at, and it really feels like you’re there with the courier, rather than watching their job in a video. It’s not a game you’re gonna play 5 times in a row, but that’s the point. Doing these routes over and over is what the couriers have to go through. This game still definitely isn’t for everyone, but it might be more appealing than it first seems.
TL;DR – Out for Delivery is a great look into what video games as documentaries can achieve. It deals with the struggles a courier faces, and captures an important moment in history at the same time.