For years, players of games that involve virtual killing — whether it's squishing Goombas in Super Mario Brothers or shooting mutants in Fallout — have added an extra challenge with "pacifist runs," or playing through the game without killing a single enemy. Now, The Wall Street Journal has profiled a handful of gamers who are taking this a step further, using pacifism not only to make a game more difficult but to showcase how nonviolent solutions are possible even in environments that condone killing.
Skyrim player Daniel Mullins, for example, wanted a "change of pace" from his earlier ultraviolent character. He created Felix the Peaceful Monk, a half-cat creature who turns away would-be assassins with calming magic. Mullins peppers his YouTube playthrough videos with comments like "apparently someone wants me dead. But that doesn't mean he deserves to die." While Skyrim is built to allow a wide range of responses, including nonviolent ones, other gamers have taken on straightforward shooters like Battlefield 3, breaking the rules of the game by reviving enemies instead of killing them. Why? "I guess not killing in videogames is rebellious," says Brock Soicher, who recorded the video.
Even in games that provide nonviolent options, choosing pacifism usually requires sacrifices. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for example, a major character became difficult to save on a pacifist run, leading many people (including myself) to abandon tranquilizer darts and stun guns to save them. Mullins can't take certain quests in Skyrim because they require killing, and he can't travel with sidekicks who might not share his character's nonviolent stance. The gamers profiled are hardly universal pacifists, but their strategies demonstrate the extent to which alternate play styles can change the experience of even the most linear games.