Within the video game community, there are all sorts of rules and limitations self-imposed by players who feel that the base game doesn't offer enough challenge, even after cranking up the difficulty settings. Others just take a perverse pleasure in subverting a game's expectations, playing it in a way it's not supposed to be played.
These challenges can take many forms. Some hardcore players practice for hours in order to blitz through levels and break speedrun records. Others become obsessive collectors of in-game secrets in search of that elusive 100% completion marker. But one of the most subversive and difficult kinds of self-imposed challenges is the pacifist run.
Pacifist runs are so hardcore because most video games encourage and incentivize engagement in combat, so much so that the 'violent video game' trope is a widely recognized joke in popular culture.
In a pacifist run, the challenge is to avoid any killing that is not absolutely required by the game, forcing the player to restrict themselves to non-lethal force if there's no other option.
Peace Sells, But Who's Buying?
Because it's expected that the player will be trigger-happy, video game levels often feature critical points blocked off by hostile enemies, making the pacifist run very tricky indeed.
Of course, in some games this is just plain impossible, but a sufficiently skilled player can avoid killing if they have the know-how. These games provide the most satisfying pacifist runs, just in case you're thinking of trying one.
1. Super Smash Bros
Yep, it's actually possible to be a pacifist in a game that's all about smashing your opponent into oblivion. There aren't a lot of fighting games on this list, but Super Smash Bros makes the cut because it's possible to trick the AI into killing themselves through stage hazards. There's a bonus ('Switzerland') for clearing a stage without even attempting an attack.
In the sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee, this bonus is simply called 'Pacifist'. There's also 'Peaceful Warrior,' which allows you to attack enemies so long as you don't KO them.
2. Deus Ex Franchise
The Deus Ex series features plenty of combat, but is designed so that pacifist playthroughs are possible, albeit difficult. In the original Deus Ex, only two characters have to be fought in order to complete the story. The first can be injured to the point that she retreats and opens the door you need to proceed through, and the second can be knocked unconscious. In the first level characters compliment you if you don't kill indiscriminately, but after that it's strictly a matter of your own pride and conscience.
Players responded so positively to peaceful solutions in Deus Ex that they were encouraged and expanded on as the franchise developed. The sequels reward a pacifist run in different ways. Invisible War's wrap up party has more attendees if you've killed less people. Human Revolution gives more XP for overcoming enemies non-lethally and an achievement for completing a pacifist run. Mankind Divided expands the options for nonlethal combat considerably and features many opportunities to talk your way out of a fight.
#Dishonored actually has a 'Clean Hands' achievement for completing the entire game without killing anyone; not even the deranged plague victims. Having said that, subduing some characters doesn't mean being nice to them—some enemies can end up in life imprisonment or slavery. A pacifist run nets you the best ending, though, and can make the stealth element of the game more viable, as you attract fewer guards and weepers.
Seriously, #Doom? It's one of those games, alongside Mortal Kombat, that's responsible for video games' ultra-violent stereotype. Despite this, one of the most coveted achievements in the Doom speedrunning community is called 'UV pacifist', in which the player must complete a level on the "Ultra-Violence" (Hard) difficulty setting without harming any monsters (luckily, the monsters can be tricked into fighting each other).
5. Fallout Franchise
Plenty of people turn violent in the atomic wasteland, but that doesn't mean nice guys have to finish last. The Fallout series is notable for the freedom given to the player character, and it's certainly possible to complete the early games without killing anyone, if you're careful to avoid enemies and talk your way through quests. In the aftermath of the story, it's possible for the player to be indirectly responsible for the deaths of quite a few people.
Even in the more combat-oriented sequels it is possible for a very patient and skilled player to finish the main quest and most sidequests in without killing a thing (except for one poor roach in Fallout 3's tutorial).
6. Metal Gear Solid 4
The #MetalGearSolid franchise first introduced non-lethal weapons in Metal Gear Solid 2, but unfortunately for purists, all the games except for MGS4 actually require you to kill certain bosses, even if it's in a non-interactive cutscene. It's still possible to get very, very close in the other games, with some enemies dying by other means if the player refuses to kill them.
The Thief games encourage skilled players to minimize violence, although the protagonist can be indirectly responsible for a couple of deaths due to story constraints. Higher difficulty settings sometimes require you not to kill anyone in a mission. Ideally, you want to complete the mission without even being noticed by hostiles, but if it comes to combat it's possible to knock out opponents. Some of the hardest missions must be completed without being detected once.
One of the main appeals of the Civilization franchise is that it offers various non-violent paths to victory, including Culture, Diplomatic and Space Race victories. The real challenge is going for these victories while trying not to kill in self-defense, as your rivals will turn aggressive to block you from winning. It takes a master of manipulation and diplomacy to guide a pacifist civilization to world domination.
9. Planescape: Torment
Planescape: Torment is a heavily story-based RPG, and, unusually for a Dungeons and Dragons based game, you can complete it with only 4 compulsory fights. Luckily, it's possible to spare your defeated enemies in these cases. But there's a twist in this game where a major objective is to find out why you can't die. It's inevitable that you'll die and get revived several times. And every time you "die," someone else dies instead, making you indirectly responsible for their death.
Billed as 'The Friendly RPG Where Nobody has to Die', Undertale is actually built from the ground up to offer pacifism as a viable option for players, with its heavily advertised ability to Spare enemies instead of fighting them. The game also explicitly criticizes the player for killing, and beating the game without killing any enemies whatsoever is required for the happiest ending. There's also a seriously grim ending for players who murder everything in the game (the 'Genocide' route), which actually carries over to haunt you in all future playthroughs.
If you play a pacifist run, some of the NPCs will mock your namby-pamby ways, but others encourage you and the consequences of your mercy will affect events later in the game.
"For the nonviolent person, the whole world is one family. He will fear none, nor will others fear him." — Mahatma Gandhi
Want to know more about the challenges taken on by hardcore gamers? Check out our 14 amazing facts about speedruns: