Gaming Without Killing

Posted by Alex Jordan on

Today, Gamasutra is featuring a typically-thoughtful blog post about all the death and wanton killing in video games. The author discusses the Manichean view that most game worlds present, with good-as-can-be good guys murdering outright evil bad guys with little in the way of pity or remorse. The author ruminates on how a game would play if it offered some combination of, say, more nuance, non-lethal takedowns, and discussion of killing as a sin.

Those are interesting thoughts to have, considering that I'm hard-pressed to identify an Xbox 360 game on my shelf that doesn't involve killing something. But that leads me to a bigger thought: why don't more games offer enjoyment, major objectives, and interesting content that don't involve killing?

I guess my case in point would be sandbox games. The last three I played that come to mind are Far Cry 2, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Mercenaries 2. Aside from well-worn time wasters like package hunting, those games all revolve around killing people (and blowing things up). In fact, aside from exploration, the very thing that makes those games sandboxy is how you kill people/blow things up. Most of the gameplay's flexibility, if you can call it that, is in choosing where to go and exactly how you wish to dispatch the people you find there. Don't get me wrong, that makes for some pretty fun gameplay, but so much more can be brought to the sandbox genre.

Take Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. I sunk more hours into that game than the above three combined. And I didn't just spend my time wandering that medieval fantasy world killing things, although there was plenty of that. I also spent a lot of time exploring. And talking to people. And collecting flowers and mushrooms so that I could make potions. And honing my magical skills. And breaking into houses and stealing things (which is also fairly evil, but was non-lethal). I felt the game was incredibly captivating because I didn't have to kill my way through it. It was a true role-playing game, and the role I played involved a lot of non-killing. And it felt good!

In short, I'd like to see a lot more games that involve killing as an exception, not a rule. Or merely just an option. Granted, some of the game ideas on my drawing board are as violent as the next guy's, but I think we need to see more non-lethal games. And I don't just mean puzzle games and musical instrument games (or geography games!). I mean games that demonstrate the same features of most modern big budget games - good art, a workable plot, detailed writing, focused presentation - but use those halmarks for something other than breaking up gunfights.