Staying peaceful in a violent world is not easy. Staying peaceful when monsters attack you seems impossible. How do stealth-games and Undertale test, whether we have the determination of the pacifist?
Some genres, like puzzle games, tend to be non-violent. But most famous games want us to fight and kill various enemies. Usually, we are supposed to stop someone big and evil, who wants to destroy the world! Even in family friendly games like Super Mario Bros., we rarely question how many beings we kill on our journey. In Assassin’s Creed we lose health points ourselves, whenever we kill innocent bystanders. But anyone, who works for the enemy Templars, is fair game. This includes every soldier of the British Empire, which leads to many bloody trails of Redcoats.
However, some games challenge us to kill as few people as possible. In Hitman we play Agent 47, a cold-blooded assassin. In various missions we have to kill a human for one reason or another without any witnesses. If anybody sees us killing our target, we can kill them as well. However, this can quickly lead to a chain of silencing witnesses. Soon we run around gunz blazing until everybody is dead. Mission accomplished! Well, technically. The game still reprimands us by giving us less money and a “psychopath” rating. Killing only the target and letting it look like an accident takes a lot of work, patience, and determination.
My first game that encourages at least non-lethal ways was Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for the Nintendo GameCube. Ironically, Hideo Kojima’s action-packed espionage thriller is full of violence. Nevertheless, before we infiltrate the rogue army base Outer Heaven as the unwilling hero Solid Snake, we are told not to kill any soldiers if possible. We can knock them out, but ideally they should not even notice us. Even in the forced boss fights, the best way is to put them to sleep with a tranquilizer pistol. Of course, that is more difficult than using a very lethal machine gun.
One game, that truly tests whether we have the determination of the pacifist, is Undertale. In Toby Fox‘ RPG we play a child that falls into a cave. This cave is filled with monsters that attack us in random encounters. During each encounter we have two options: we can either fight and kill the monster, or we pacify it in one of various ways. Some monsters can be calmed down by compliments, by petting them, or by repeatedly flexing at them in a contest until they flex themselves out of the room.
Since ending a fight peacefully gives us no experience points, we do not become stronger, if we do not kill monsters. Against boss monsters this can mean, that one hit kills us. And just like in every good RPG, the fights against these boss monsters have multiple phases that only get tougher. However, if we refrain from attacking them, if we just start to listen, we can learn why they try to stop us. We can learn that they are people just like us. Not human, but people. At times, it may even seem impossible not to fight back and to show mercy, but the game reminds us at every save point of the power of determination.
If you want to develop a game with lots of fighting, think for a moment about how the conflicts could be solved peacefully or at least non-lethally. This way is probably more difficult and that is alright. We know from our real world, that violence is the easier and more seductive way of solving a problem. However, peaceful cooperation can lead more happiness in the long run. Reward your players for their hard work. This may be as simple as a better mission ranking or nicer end credits. The recognition of this achievement can be reward enough. However, adapting your game to make a pacifist run possible, can turn it into a whole new experience.
What are your favorite experiences with the determination of the pacifist? Share them in the comments below! I look forward to reading them. In the mean time, I am filled with determination.
(Photo by Sunyu on Unsplash)