We review games that offer mechanics that defy the convention of “kill enemies to advance.”
We press START. We choose character and options to adapt the graphics, sound and difficulty to our liking. Here begins an adventure full of emotions and challenges. Of course, we must fight our way through hordes of enemies that we must eliminate if we want to reach our destination. Killing is necessary to survive in this universe, and other people’s blood does not make us a bad person, although sometimes we enjoy playing the role of villain. Even the violence of video games does not make us more aggressive, as certain smear campaigns lie. Sometimes we are the one who dies, and it is even necessary if we want to continue our journey. But do we always have to get our hands dirty to survive? Today we remember those video games that propose mechanics in which no one has to get hurt. At least not too much.
Safe violence in video games
The representation of violence in video games is a thorny issue, especially due to the morbid approach that usually occurs in the generalist media. The graphic violence of Mortal Kombat established the need for age ratings in digital entertainment, and aggressive behaviors in online games and competitive settings have also raised the debate about sportsmanship. Also, killing to progress is a more than common mechanic in video games. Now, how the act of murder is coded varies according to the code in which the game is played. The writer Eva Cid, in an essay on aggression in video games regarding the launch of Rape Day, analyzes:
“Mario’s jump is an aggression mechanic. And a quite violent one, since it is about a man jumping on animals to crush their heads. However, we do not perceive it that way because it is coded innocuously. The equivalent of a child’s slap to take away his favorite toy from his brother. In ship games we shoot thousands of projectiles to shoot down entire fleets. That’s a lot of people. But this mechanic, like Mario’s, is a simple press to make us progress through a virtual environment. The soldier emptying a magazine on the head of his enemy or enemy is nothing more than a sustained pulse, encoded as murder in this case, but without its evocations. It is the same pulsation, the mechanical movement to unleash events and advance ”.
Tetris, a challenge to mental agility.
However, there are video games that break with the convention that a video game is not possible without the mechanic of killing to progress. While there are titles that reserve murder as an alternative, there are others that offer different game mechanics and that remind us of other design perspectives. TIME magazine already recalls: “Non-violent games have existed in the medium from its earliest days: we don’t spill any blood in Pong or Tetris.”
Graphic adventures, ingenuity above all
Unlike other types of games, in adventure games we don’t need to use our biceps or our skill with weapons. Also, if we take a look at many of its protagonists, almost all of them are far from being the classic warrior of colossal strength who does not fear death. Guybrush Threepwood, the grotesque trio from Day of the Tentacle, Laura Bow … All of them are characters without a physical constitution that allows them to overcome great obstacles – if we ignore the ability to hold our breath under water that the pirate showed off. However, his greatest talent resides in his brain and the player, through them, must demonstrate his mastery of logic by solving complex puzzles, in such a way that we achieve the objective in a non-violent way. Of course, there are also graphic adventures in which we must harm others, see the ill-fated hamster of Maniac Mansion, or how our identity as a human or replicant in Blade Runner earns us a series of enemies that we will not be able to outwit with dialectic. All in all, the essence of graphic adventure gameplay lies in how we cleverly navigate obstacles.
Even duels on Monkey Island are cleverly solved.
It is also a genre that continues to receive a generous reception. Ron Gilbert, designer of multiple titles at LucasArts, expressed, on the PlayStation blog, the desire of gamers to seek games that offer more than the satisfaction of virtually killing, in light of the launch of The Cave: “Video games are directed a lot more to the mass market. Many people play today, whether on their mobile, tablet or others. They do not have to be interested in hyper-violent games, with so much stab to the neck, and that require a quick reaction. They like slower things and they love solving puzzles. Angry Birds, for example, is a bestseller and is a puzzle video game. You use your brain to solve a puzzle and it has a visceral part, as you watch these birds squash things.
The walking simulators and the pleasure of exploration
Walking simulators are the exact opposite of fast-paced action titles. With simple gameplay, the allure of this genre lies in an intimate narrative and a sense of ongoing wonder. They have often been reviled for the extreme simplicity of their mechanics, which are the antithesis of other established genres. In the essay The ways of the videogame and art: reconfigurations of the player in the walking simulator they reel off: “In these games there is a notorious attenuation of the playful dimension in favor of an exploratory-type experience sustained by the act of walking. This change operates a break of the expectations foreseen by most of the strong genres of the medium, since what it is about is not a reconfiguration of the existing recreational structures but rather their cancellation ”.
Firewatch, a walking simulator about loneliness and isolation.
We cannot ignore the impact of titles like Firewatch and its reflection on loneliness, or What Remains of Edith Finch and its elegy to a family condemned to premature death. Of course there is violence in this class of titles, but not at the hands of the player. Even reliving the last moments of the Finches, we limited ourselves to replaying the acts that brought each of the members to an end. In GamaSutra, they analyze: “In games like this, you poke around as if you were a voyeur to solve a specific mystery, just like the protagonist of 2312 (Kim Stanley Robinson) when his grandmother dies mysteriously. You want to find out what happened ”.
Always with sportsmanship
We already know the healthy benefits of sport and the importance of exercising your own body. In addition, soccer and basketball are worshiped by a devoted public that religiously attends televised and face-to-face games. In digital entertainment, we can embody one of our ball heroes and savor the glory of a match won. And all this, without blood involved, despite the fact that we also know the aggressive episodes that have occurred in a competitive environment.
In Football Manager we lead our team to glory.
The essay More Than a Game: Sports-Themed Video Games and Player Narratives explores the appeal of sports video games and highlights it as one of the most successful genres: “Since the beginning of the history of digital entertainment, sport has proven to be a popular theme in videogames (see Crawford, 2005a), and today there are video versions of major and even minor sports and competitions ”. In the same study, they have a testimony that explains: “Video games allow me to explore the fantasy of managing the Wolverhampton Wanderers FC team]and lead them to the glory of the Premier League or the Champions League. It’s the beauty of the latest soccer management games, like Football Manager. They let you make statements to the press or talk to your players, and you feel like you are feeding your team and leading them to glory (laughs) ”.
The pacifist route
Role-playing video games are an ode to the freedom of the player. In an immersive universe, we become an alter-ego through which we fulfill our fantasies of power. Likewise, we outline the personality of our avatar through decisions and actions. And we don’t always choose the good; also choose to seek our own and selfish benefit, or even opt for the path of evil.
The Master, the final boss of Fallout that we could defeat with diplomacy.
Based on class specialization, we decide how we want to deal with conflicts. We can choose to let our sword speak for us, or even to become a silent shadow and limit ourselves to knocking out potential witnesses of our actions. We can also let our charisma overpower our rival without getting our hands dirty. Let’s remember Fallout and the possibility of ending the Master by convincing him that his plan is useless, after which he decides to immolate himself. Or how in The Outer Worlds we can avoid a final battle if we know how to use our diplomatic talents. It should also be noted that random encounters sometimes make it difficult to complete the game by adhering to a strict code of not harming anyone. After all, leveling up is a necessary task and the escape option doesn’t always work, although we can always reserve violence as a last resort.
The method by which we can complete a game without killing anyone is known as “the pacifist route”, as defined by TV Tropes, to which it adds that, on occasions, the good ending is usually the reward for the players who choose the nonviolence. Undertale, for its part, offered an interesting deconstruction of the RPG mechanics by offering this route in contrast to the genocidal route, that is, the slaughter of every hostile creature. However, if we opt for this last option, we are punished with the depopulation of the game universe and the obstruction of our experience, as the essay Ethics at Play in Undertale: Rhetoric, Identity And Deconstruction (Fréderic Seraphine) points out: “the genocidal route is a differentiating experience that is based on eradicating all the attractions of the game to create an aesthetic of guilt and regret ”.
It is also worth mentioning the case of some players who decide to go beyond the conventional game system to find alternative routes to the expected one. This is the case of Noor The Pacifist, a World of Warcraft player who reached level 80 with a rogue gnome without killing other players or characters and only with pacifist missions. Cracked, which reviews in a report on famous players for their unusual way of playing, also highlights Everbloom, which reached level 85 in WOW dedicating itself solely to collecting and crafting: “The game map was toured for days, gathering the scarce Experience points you get for exploring and picking flowers until it became very powerful spontaneously. “
Animal Crossing and the triumph of tenderness
When a video game allows us creativity and craftsmanship as mechanics and objectives, we can rarely think of violence to achieve our ends. Arrive in an idyllic town, cultivate our own garden, exchange our goods with our neighbors and build a healthy relationship with them… With so many options, we are allowed to engage for hours in a game without resorting to weapons, although in some titles we have to eliminate monsters. Farm or life simulators provide us with an elaborate and satisfying game system, where we are allowed to get our brains going and relax in a beautiful landscape.
Romana Ramzan, university professor of video game narrative at the University of Glasgow Caledonian, explains how beatus ille was the secret that Animal Crossing: New Horizons triumphed in 2020, the year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic: “It doesn’t exist disgust. There is no violence. Players engage in everyday life without suffering the consequences of the real world. It is as if you are transported to a parallel universe; that universe that you have always wanted, but cannot get ”.
And although virtual violence can help vent anger safely, we also want to play games where other types of skills are stimulated. Kells Tate, head of development at Calico, expresses in TIME magazine her idea about how gamers look for genres that are not about “killing to get ahead”: “People are very stressed right now. I think a lot of people, like me, get tired of the uprooted way that cynicism deals with real-world problems. And now we want to respond in a genuine and empathetic way with what is happening in the world ”.