An Outline of Non-Violent Games in History

After a brief look at the history, objectively non-violent video games appear to have started out with main frame computer re-creations of traditional games like Nim or Chess, then transitioning to arcade-styled sports games like "Tennis for Two" and "Pong," and eventually to simulation games, followed by games that became increasingly immersive and story-based, such as the PC adventure genre.
As games became increasingly sophisticated, the genres were increasingly blended in various ways. Eventually, the RPG and "stealth" variations of the action genre started featuring the option to solve conflicts without using violence in an increasing number of titles. Last but not least, the rise of "casual games" led to a rebirth of the adventure genre, re-incorporating the DOS-era traditions of unique artwork with straight-forward point-and-click interfaces, as well as non-violent strategy games featuring storylines comparable in some cases to those found in RPGs. Developments are still continuing, but at the moment the future of completely non-violent games is looking bright.

Non-Violent Arcade Games
While many games had been developed for expensive main frame computers as early as the 1950s, mainstream gaming markets were initially dominated by arcade games, since technology had not yet advanced to the point where home computers and consoles could be manufactured profitably. Arcade games competed vigorously with the pinball machine industry in the US, and arcade games usually revolved around real-time action that demanded fast reflexes (and the continual pumping of quarters into the machine). Some featured shootouts between space ships or arguably "harmless" action like that seen in Pac-Man, but arcade machines also had a number of completely non-violent titles:
Taito flyer for Japanese edition of Speed Race, an innovative arcade racing game.
In the 1970s, prolific game engineer Tomohiro Nishikado developed an impressive number of groundbreaking arcade games in a short period of time for the Taito company, including 1974's  "Speed Race," a vertically scrolling racing game machine complete with custom steering wheel, gear-shift, speedometer and tachometer. Like most of his games, his racing concepts were influential and were later copied by many other arcade and console designers. (On the other side of the coin, however, he also developed "Western Gun" in 1975, a western-themed shooting game which has been cited as the first game to feature mortal combat between two human gunslingers.)
Midway flyer for U.S. release of "Gun Fight," aka "Western Gun" in Japan.
Later in 1979, the fore-runner of what later became known as the "Stealth" genre appeared on the arcade scene through Hiroshi Suzuki's Manbiki Shounen (Shoplifting Boy) , in which the objective was to steal "$" symbols from a shop without being spotted by the owner—or else "shoplifting boy" would be hauled away by the police, and the player would have to insert another coin of their own, if they wanted to play again. While outnumbered substantially by action titles, a handful of stealth genre games continued being developed through the 1980s onward, eventually finding popular acclaim through the Metal Gear and Thief series (among others), and eventually evolving to enable the possibility of winning without using violence.
The 1987 release of the first Metal Gear game on the MSX2 was a landmark "stealth" title, even if violence was a central theme of the game.

Non-Violent Computer Simulations, Adventures, and RPGs

The 1971 simulation "The Oregon Trail" was one of the earliest predecessors to later genres of games including simulations, RPGs, and adventures. While not devoid of death or violence (since it provided the option to hunt wild beasts for food, for example), the emphasis was on intelligent planning and surviving the journey over the Oregon Trail, rather than on Wild Western shoot-em-up action or other forms of violent gameplay.
The popular simulation Oregon Trail was a simulation with RPG elements and a primarily non-violent objective.
Another highly influential game was text-based game "Colossal Cave Adventure" in 1976, focusing on exploration, treasure-hunting, and adventure. The evocative text in Adventure's introduction read: "Somewhere nearby is Colossal Cave, where others have found fortunes in treasure and gold, though it is rumored that some who enter are never seen again. Magic is said to work in the cave..."
The game required the player to use text commands to navigate through the cave and collect as much treasure as possible, and then escape from the caverns alive. By some accounts, this game later inspired Roberta Williams to create adventure games beginning with "Mystery House," and later 1980's "King's Quest," which became a successful series with many sequels, and was highly influential on future generations of adventurer game designers.
One of many fairy-tale scenes from AGD Interactive's updated graphical version of the original King's Quest
King's Quest was not devoid of violence—as Sir Graham had several dangerous encounters obliging him to dispatch an evil witch, giant, and dragon—but these fairy tale encounters were dealt with quickly, while the majority of the game was focused on non-violent exploration and puzzle-solving. The game inspired many other series of adventure games with minimal emphasis on violence, including newer generations of adventure games such as the Awakening series, some of which are completely devoid of violence.

The phenomenon of the CRPG ("computer role-playing game") developed in the same period, inspired in significant part by the 1974 release of the first edition of "Dungeons and Dragons." Unlike adventure games, CRPGs have typically always mandated a much larger number of combat encounters, partly because battling monsters or foes was part of a legendary medieval-fantasy setting, but partly also since early technical limitations forced developers to keep their game engines reasonably simple, making it difficult to provide a wide range of options for getting past the types of monsters typically encountered in "dungeon crawl" genre RPGs. In later generations of CRPGs, the option to be able to win the games with the option of avoiding violence and killing started to appear, but was mostly absent from the earliest "dungeon crawls."
An early edition of a D&D "Dungeon Master's Guide," in which battles were commonplace.
Below the Root (released in 1984) was one of the notable non-violent adventure games with RPG elements, but no easily definable genre. Below the Root stood out from the crowd for being unique in a number of ways, including its absence of violence. The game takes place in a unique fantasy world called Green-sky, where a utopian society living in the trees and abiding by a strict code of conduct has been shaken by the discovery that less utopian race of beings lives in caverns beneath the forest.
Cover of the novel Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, upon which the 1984 non-violent computer game was based.
In the game, the player must assume the role of one of the characters from the books (written by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, who cooperated with the game designers and artists while the game was being developed) in an attempt to save the realm. For the most part, "violence" only occurs when the player is injured by accidentally falling out of the trees, by colliding with a few dangerous tree creatures, or by becoming imprisoned— but in each case the worst outcome is to become unconscious, then re-awakened in a "nid-place" elsewhere in Green-sky.

Another notable non-violent offering appeared in 1988 when Cyan software (created by brothers Rand and Robyn Miller who later created Myst) created "The Manhole," a non-violent fantasy exploration game aimed at children, built on a similar point-and-click interface that was later used in Myst.
Cover of a later CD-ROM Masterpiece Edition of Cyan's The Manhole
Another non-violent landmark in gaming history appeared in 1989, when the creators of SimCity finally managed to convince distributors to support their now-legendary game, despite its deviation from the prevailing norm in computer games. SimCity was a non-violent and open-ended simulator with an unusual premise: The goal of the game was to start with an undeveloped patch of land, and then build a thriving city, striving to balance the need to keep the citizens happy and prosperous with the need to optimize revenues.

Non-Violent Casual Gaming Starts Growing

Educational software aimed at children was produced during the growth of the PC gaming market also, but otherwise non-violent titles can be rather hard to find in the timeline of higher-profile commercial games. An exception, of course, were the various "casual" games that were always available, even if no particular release stood out from the pack. Various non-violent computerized strategy and board-game reproductions of famous games like Nim, Chess, and various card games had been released ever since the very earliest days that computer games were developed. One noteworthy new and original entry was Tetris, which was created in the early 1980s by Alexey Pajitnov (a mathematician and AI researcher working behind the Iron Curtain), and ported to IBM-PC by his colleagues. Tetris was highly popular and ended up bundled with Nintendo's first Game Boy in 1989.
1988 IBM-PC cover art of Tetris, released as "Tetris: The Soviet Challenge" by Spectrum Holobyte.
In 1990, Microsoft made another move that had a big impact on the future of casual gaming, when they included a computerized Solitaire game as free software bundled with the new Windows operating system. This resulted in large numbers of former "non-gamers" who had never had any prior interest in gaming suddenly starting to play "casual games," finding they enjoyed computerized gaming more than expected.

Non-Violent Landmarks of the 1990s

In many respects, the early 1990's were a bigger decade for violent gaming than non-violent ones, as real-time war strategy games and first-person shooters became wildly popular and successful. However, a few honorable mentions were also released in the early 1990s, contributing to the popularity of non-violent action and racing games:
In-game screenshot from the SNES classic Super Mario Kart, featuring popular characters from the Mario universe.
One was Nintendo's new racing game Super Mario Kart, the first of a highly popular and influential series on many systems, and involving little "violence" other than an array of friendly characters competing with actions such as bopping each other's go-karts with turtle shells.The previous year had also seen the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, spurring the popularity of the Sega Genesis system.
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic arguably deserved special honors as a non-violent "action" game, since every robot he busted into a cloud of sparks and smoke released a small friendly animal that had been imprisoned within by Doctor Robotnik, and even Robotnik himself never met with lasting injury after each of his schemes was foiled. However, Sega's other ported releases aroused controversy.  In 1993, Sega releases including Mortal Kombat spurred Senate hearings resulting in the imposition of a rating system on console video games, while the notorious 1st-person shooter Doom made its debut on the PC in the same year.
Cover art for the 1993 PC game Myst by Cyan, Inc.
One of non-violent gaming's bigger milestones appeared when Cyan released Myst in 1993, absorbing a huge number of players with its pre-rendered high-definition graphics, rich atmospheres, and mysterious plotline, which only gradually unfolds during extensive non-linear exploration and puzzle-solving in the in-game world. Myst surprised many people by being a huge success that set records in PC game sales for years to come, despite having a much simpler game engine and a total absence of violent gameplay.
Exploring the mysterious island in Myst
While not usually considered a "casual" game due to its high difficulty and depth, Myst actually used a straightforward point-and-click interface to navigate through mostly still images with partial animations in some areas. This formula was used very successfully in dozens of other graphically rich adventure games that later appeared in the rebirth of the adventure genre through the "casual" gaming marketplace.

Another non-violent gaming development that took place in the 1990s, in part because of the expanded CD-ROM capabilities of systems like the Sony Playstation, was the rise in popularity of music games like the "beatmania" and "Dance Dance Revolution" series. The PS1 was also the host to a large number of racing and sports games, many of which were also non-violent and still commercially successful.

Non-Violent Developments in RPGs & Stealth Games

Console RPG games had been enjoying a golden age in the 1990s, and titles like Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy VI, and Chrono Trigger are still considered timeless classics by many RPG fans. Strictly speaking, none of these RPGs could be called "non-violent" since they all involved large amounts of mandatory combat encounters that they player could not avoid.
Three blue imps surround the hero of Chrono Trigger, initiating a combat encounter.
However, an unusual RPG called "Harvest Moon" was also released in Japan in 1996, in which the objective was to restore and maintain an old farm, engaging in non-violent tasks like foraging, farming, and tending animals— and later even allowing the player to court and marry one of a number of young ladies.
Harvest Moon, one of the few console RPGs to avoid combat themes.
In more recent years, the Harvest Moon series (which has been renamed "Story of the Seasons") was very influential on the popular Chinese social game "Happy Farm," which in turn influenced the record-setting Facebook game Farmville, and a large number of similar non-violent farming games designed for mobile devices and the PC casual games market.

1998 was also an important year for the stealth genre, with the release of both "Metal Gear Solid," and "Thief: The Dark Project." Both were dark games lacking the more warm-hearted and romantic approach of most console RPG games, but both nonetheless widely popularized the stealth game genre in which it was not actually necessary to kill any enemies to win. Future developers of high-profile releases inspired and influenced by these titles began designing more games in which killing could be avoided if "tactical stealth" could be used instead.
Thief: Gold
Non-violent Games in the New Millennium: 

In the year 2000 a new non-violent "life simulation" game called "The Sims" became the best-selling PC game of all time, breaking Myst's long-standing record. In 2001, another big score for popular and profitable non-violent gaming took place with Nintendo's release of "Animal Crossing," an open-ended village simulation featuring a cast of anthropomorphic animals. The game was extremely popular and critically acclaimed.
Nintendo Gamecube box art for Animal Crossing
This was also the case with Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto's 2005 "Nintendogs," a real-time pet simulator. Arguably, all three games were major entries bridging the gap between "casual gaming" and games with deeper gameplay, since all three were fairly sophisticated, but also open-ended and easy to learn, as well as being non-violent.

As mobile device games bring in over a billion in revenues, the "casual gaming" industry rose in significance, producing a huge number of non-violent games, including a renewal of the point-and-click adventure games that had fallen strongly out of favor with larger commercial developers in the late 1990s. New online distribution platforms and technology made it possible for highly art-intensive adventure games to be produced again using reasonably simple game engines influenced by King's Quest, Myst, and other classic adventure games with a "point-and-click" interface that is easy to learn, and then to sell the games at a fraction of the cost of mainstream titles.
Awakening: Moonfell Wood, one of many completely non-violent adventure games developed since the rebirth of the genre.
In 2006, Nintendo surprised modern console developers by bringing out a new system that actually had lower technical specifications than some of its major competitors, but was intended to attract a much wider audience, capitalizing on the growing trends in "casual" and non-violent games with relatively low learning curves. Some critics expected the system to be a flop for various reasons (ranging from the modest technical specs to the unusual name "Wii" chosen for the system), but the system ended up surprising critics by outselling its competitors and producing a substantial number of best-selling titles that were also notable for having minimal violence: Measured across individual platforms, Nintendo's Wii Sports (bundled with the new system in all regions except Japan) currently holds the #1 spot as best-selling game of all time, followed by Nintendo's NES classic Super Mario Bros., and by another non-violent Nintendo Wii title taking third place: Mario Kart Wii.

In the newer alternative platforms of devices and social media sites, the last years of the decade also saw the releases of Happy Farm, Farmville, and related games influenced directly or indirectly by the non-violent farming-themed RPG Harvest Moon.

Independent & Experimental Nonviolent Games
Box art for the PS3 edition of the independent game Minecraft
Independent game developers also started making their mark with popular releases like Minecraft, an open-ended game based on building lego-like structures, in which a non-violent "peaceful mode" could be selected in order to play without battles. Measured across all genres, Minecraft is currently the #2 best-selling game of all time (one position ahead of Wii Sports), being beaten only by the 1980's classic Tetris. (The achievement is also notable since both Tetris and Wii Sports owe a significant amount of their sales position to having been included as bundled software.)

Independent developers also come up with a growing number of experimental non-violent titles that involved no violence by default. Some have detailed storylines, while others are open-ended experimental projects with little or no plotline or fixed objectives, sometimes being more like interactive "meditations" or interactive art projects.

In the plot-driven genre, some experimental games start defining what some termed as an "exploration" sub-genre of adventure games in which no violence takes place, instead focusing on unfolding of plotlines as player explores and discovers new things. One such game was called "Dear Esther" and released for multiple platforms, involving first-person exploration of a 3d island, without any violence. "Gone Home," released in 2013, is another notable title that is based primarily on exploring an old mansion, with the emphasis on telling a story.
Screenshot from the successful nonviolent game "Flower"
In an even more experimental vein, Flower, released in 2009, was one of a number of games produced by "thatgamecompany," and has been described as a meditative experience in which the player enters the dreams of flowers and controls the wind to blow flower petals through the air.
Journey was another experimental game by the same company, in which the player controls a robed figure exploring a desert landscape while on a journey toward a mountain. It was notable not only for being non-violent, but also for being a multi-player game in which communication with other players takes place without speech or text, using only a musical chime.

Developments for the Future...? 

The commercial success and popularity of even highly unusual non-violent projects has demonstrated that games don't need to be violent to be successful, and that non-violent games can succeed even in genres usually crowded with violent titles.
The Awakening series, one of many series of non-violent adventure games available at Big Fish Games, has been successful enough since its first release in 2010 to result in seven sequels as of 2014.
With non-violent gamers avidly buying non-violent titles even on mainstream systems, and with more rapid growth in areas of the gaming market like mobile and casual games (whose players appear to strongly favor non-violent themes in multiple genres), profitable opportunities probably exist to develop more inherently non-violent games in genres like strategy gaming and RPGs.

Simulations like SimCity have long had some of the deepest gameplay available in non-violent games, but inherently non-violent "epic" strategy games designed on a similar scale and depth as Heroes of Might & Magic or Age of Wonders appear to be very rare— even though the gameplay in turn-based strategy epics could be adapted relatively easily to setting a game in a non-violent context.

The same thing is true of all turn-based RPGs, whose combat systems are already not usually appealing to players that demand "hack-and-slash" or "shoot-'em-up" action, and so could theoretically be adapted fairly easily to feature some type of non-violent substitute for the generic default combat systems.

Modern CRPGs are another interesting prospect: Many of them feature a dangerous and violent game world that nonetheless gives players the option of winning via a "pacifist challenge," which theoretically means they can sell to both violent and non-violent gamers. However, a larger subset of potential CRPG gamers probably also exists who would only want to play the game in the first place in the absence of a violent atmosphere (regardless of whether they are obliged to take violent actions of their own), leaving them free to explore and interact with a less hostile in-game world.

Which came first: Violent games, or non-violent games?

Was the first video-game in history a violent game, or a non-violent game? Trying to determine which category deserves the blue-ribbon for coming in first in the historic timeline was somewhat challenging, since different sources make different claims about which game actually came first. However, the weight of evidence suggests that the honors go to the "non-violent" category— even after accounting for the spirited disagreements about which specific criteria should be used to qualify or disqualify historic contenders for the title of "first video game."

The 1970's game "Pong" has sometimes been cited as the first video game (as has "Pac-Man"), but while Pong may have been a landmark game and one of the first games to become popular in arcades and home consoles, it appears to have been introduced at least a few decades after the very earliest video games.

Spacewar, a 1962 computer game featuring dueling space ships (and reportedly very popular among MIT students) appears to have been the only contender that could have given the "violent game" category the first place medal, but was preceded by a number of non-violent contenders.
Public domain screenshot of Spacewar! being played on a PDP-1 emulator. (Image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Several of these contenders in the somewhat broader "electronic games" category appeared as early as the 1940's: For example, a machine called the Nimatron reportedly appeared at the New York World's Fair circa 1940. According to Wikipedia: "Nim is a mathematical game of strategy in which two players take turns removing objects from distinct heaps," which would presumably have given the non-violent category the 1st-place prize if the Nimatron had qualified.

However, the Nimatron arguably did not qualify as a "video game," since the machine reportedly did not generate its own graphic display. The 1940's also saw the introduction of the "Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device," which was also an interactive electronic game, but which some disqualify for first-place honors for similar reasons.

Two more noteworthy contenders from the early 1950's include "Bertie the Brain," a 13+ foot tall computer capable of playing Tic-Tac-Toe (also known as "Noughts and Crosses"), and the 1951 Nimrod computer, which was also capable of playing Nim— but these were both disqualified for the "first video game" prize by the web site "How-to Geek," since they also used electronic displays involving light-bulbs hidden behind impressive looking screen displays, rather than generating their own internal graphics.

The web site "How-to Geek" claims that the honors for first video game go to Tennis for Two, a computer game developed by the American physicist William Higinbotham in 1958: The game was a simple tennis simulation in which players used a large aluminum controller to bat an on-screen ball back and forth over a net, all rendered in a 2d graphics display.
William Higinbotham's 1958 "Tennis For Two." (Public domain photo by the Brookhaven National Laboratory.)
Higinbotham designed the game for an exhibition at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, while he was employed as the head of the Instrumentation Division. He later recounted: "The instruction book that came with the computer described how to plot trajectories and bouncing shapes, for research. I thought, 'Hell, this would make a good game.'"

"Tennis for Two" reportedly attracted hundreds of players (particularly teenagers and young men and women), who lined up at Brookhaven National Laboratory's annual public exhibition for a turn to play the game. The game was so popular that Higinbotham also developed a 1959 edition in which players could select alternate gravity levels to simulate tennis-playing conditions on Jupiter and the Moon.

Accordingly, it appears that the "non-violent" game category is the clear winner of the "first video game in history" 1st prize, with 1958's "Tennis for Two" having preceded 1962's "Spacewar" by approximately four years.
A tennis-playing 1950's couple (Image from Cinderella Love #29. Image from, licensed CC BY 3.0)
Adding further interest to this story is the fact that the William Higinbotham, (who has been dubbed a "Grandfather" or "Founding Father" of video games) had previously worked as a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he headed the team of scientists that designed the electronic ignition mechanisms and measuring instruments for the world's very first nuclear bomb.
William Higinbotham's Wartime Staff Badge Photo. (Public domain photo from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.)
Higinbotham later became a co-founder and first chairman of the Federation of American scientists (a continuation of the Federation of Atomic Scientists, originally founded by Manhattan Project scientists). The FAS is still active today, and describes itself as a network of experts and thinkers motivated to "reduce nuclear dangers and ultimately prevent global catastrophe."

Higinbotham said in 1983 that he never bothered to patent "Tennis for Two," both because it "seemed to me sort of an obvious thing," and because it would have belonged to the government even if he had tried to patent it. After Higinbotham passed away, his son reportedly also stated that it was "imperative" that his father be remembered for his lifelong dedication to nonproliferation work intended to prevent nuclear disaster, and not merely his contribution to video game history.

Nonetheless, Higinbotham's contribution to video-game history has been acknowledged by many sources over the years, notably with the 2011 creation of an educational foundation named "The William A. Higinbotham Game Studies Collection." The foundation's web site states that it is "dedicated to collecting and preserving the texts and ephemera that document the history of video games; and the work of early game innovator and Brookhaven National Laboratory scientist William A. Higinbotham, who in 1958 invented the first interactive analog computer game, Tennis for Two."


Non-violent Games

Non-violent games (designed for players to achieve in-game goals using completely non-violent strategies) might be more abundantly available now than they ever have been in the past, even if they tend not to garner as much mainstream media attention as violent ones:
Unlike in the past, when the majority of nonviolent games were found in casual or sports-related games, non-violent games are increasingly easy to find in many other genres, notably story-based adventure games and "simulation" games, as well as a minority of RPG games, among others. Part of the growth in non-violent gaming is due to the popularity of casual gaming markets in recent years, but successful non-violent titles involving more complex engines and demanding gameplay are also becoming more common.
Awakening: Moonfell Wood, one of many non-violent adventure games released within the past decade.
Interestingly, until the rise of World of Warcraft (in which "pacifist challenge" gameplay is reportedly optional, but definitely not the norm), the two best-selling PC games of all time were both non-violent: Myst (released in 1993) and later The Sims (released in the year 2000), both proving that non-violent games could be just as commercially successful as violent counterparts, or even more successful.
Myst stood out from most other games in the early 1990s for having no violent gameplay, yet surprised many by becoming the best-selling PC game of all time for many years.
Most of the early computer RPG games were based on a dungeon-crawl model that involved mandatory combat, but the same was not true of the adventure genre, which has usually tended to be less oriented toward violent conflict: 1976's text-based Colossal Cave Adventure was oriented around treasure-hunting and exploring, 1984's Below the Root was mostly devoid of violence, and the influential 1980s-90s King's Quest series was oriented toward exploring, solving puzzles, and the unfolding of a faery-tale storyline. Deadly combat encounters in adventure games were reasonably rare (compared with their counterparts in RPG and other genres) and were often over relatively quickly when they took place, unlike genres in which "grinding" by repetitively smiting monsters and foes was the normal mode of gameplay.
King's Quest (shown in the AGD Interactive remake with updated graphics) involved brief moments in which Sir Graham had to confront monsters such as an evil witch, a giant, and a dragon, among others. However, the mood and mode of gameplay in point-and-click adventures like King's Quest was mostly non-violent.
Adventure games by Sierra, LucasArts, and other developers were very popular for a period of time, and defined a new popular genre in PC gaming, usually based on "point-and-click" gameplay with a low learning curve, relying on solving mysteries and puzzles to create a challenge for players. The low learning curves only made these games easy to learn to play, however, and not necessarily easy to win: Many early adventure games were notable for requiring the player to solve extremely challenging and obtuse puzzles, some of which have been compiled in lists of "most aggravating" or devious puzzles ever encountered in adventure games.
Classic adventure games like King's Quest were more likely to challenge players with extremely difficult puzzles, rather than by forcing players to engage in surfeits of combat. Shown above is the notorious gnome who required Sir Graham to guess his name...
In 1993, Cyan released a unique game called Myst that was built on a somewhat similar framework, using first-person perspective travel via a point-and-click interface through a world rendered in still images, with occasional animations. The game placed the player alone on a mysterious island with many mysterious devices whose functions were not readily apparent, requiring them to gradually explore, gather clues, and figure out how to progress using logic and puzzle-solving skills. Despite the simplicity of its game engine, Myst was so absorbing to thousands of players that it became the best-selling PC game of all time, holding its record all the way into the year 2000 (when "The Sims" was released).
The first area on the mysterious island the player must explore, from the original release of Cyan's Myst.
Later in the 1990s, however, adventure games fell strongly out of favor with commercial developers for various reasons, and by some accounts became near-"untouchables" with mainstream production companies for a period of time, leading to many games by once-popular designers being scrapped while still in production. Fortunately, many adventure game designers (including some who had lost their jobs at former adventure game developers like LucasArts) found new ways to get back into the markets without the backing of big-name companies, eventually forming new companies and using new online distribution platforms to re-introduce new adventures. These included both adventure games released into "casual" gaming markets, and higher-budget titles with a somewhat cinematic approach to storytelling.

One of the most abundant sources of completely non-violent games are the PC adventure games developed by companies like Big Fish (and various independent developers releasing games through Big Fish and other distributors). Most of these feature a story-based game with remarkably beautiful painted and/or 3d-rendered landscapes, which are further brought to life using animated visual and lighting effects. In most cases, players navigate through the in-game world using a simple point-and-click interface following the traditions established by earlier generations of PC adventure games on MS-DOS and other operating systems.
Dreampath: Two Kingdoms, another non-violent game from the new generation of adventures that combines the accessibility level of "casual" games with the classical point-and-click exploring and puzzle-solving model of the DOS classics from 1980s and 1990s.
Like many of the popular classic era adventure games, the new generation of games are often developed by re-using similar (or identical) game engines for large numbers of releases that feature new artwork and storylines, enabling designers to be much more prolific and release more games at lower costs than was once the case, back when the adventure genre fell out of favor with larger companies in the late 1990s. Most of the newer wave of adventure games give players the option of playing on either a "casual" mode of difficulty that makes the game fairly easy, while players in search of a challenge can select at least one harder difficulty mode that removes clues, penalizes player error in some cases, and/or imposes time limits on players during attempts to solve puzzles.
The setting and style of these games tends to vary fairly widely: beautifully realized fantasy-themed settings are common and popular in dozens of games, many featuring very positive atmospheres, cute animal companions, and completely non-violent storylines. However, dozens of others have much darker themes with mystery, occult, or horror settings, and some feature sinister imagery or themes that some parents might find objectionable. However, even in the darker games, using violence to overcome obstacles appears to be a rarity, with even the horror-themed games more often requiring non-violent solutions to the conflicts and dangerous encounters found in the game's storyline.
A cave in Detective Quest: Crystal Slipper, which features a few more macabre fairy-tale themes and visual elements, but is still arguably on the benign side. Dozens of other recent adventure games modeled on the same engines are much darker and overtly horror-themed, but still rarely appear to involve requiring violent actions on the part of the player.
Nonviolent Simulations

SimCity may take the prize for being the longest-running and most popular non-violent simulation/strategy game series. Since the first release in 1989, SimCity became famous for its ability to absorb the attention and energy of players preoccupied with building and managing their own cities, despite the moderately high learning-curve and level of complexity found in all releases. Numerous other non-violent "Sim" games have been released since the original 1989 SimCity release, meeting with varying degrees of success, but in the year 2000 the "life-simulator" called The Sims became the best-selling PC game since Myst was released.
A coal and ore mining city under development in SimCity 2013, the latest sequel since the original SimCity was released in 1989. The original 1989 SimCity was only released after years of difficulty getting distributors to take a risk on the open-ended and non-violent city building game, which was unusual for its time.
Many new non-violent entrants to the simulation genre have been appearing in what some consider the "casual" games marketplace as well: Examples include Animal Crossing and Nintendogs (both produced by Nintendo), Farmville and other non-violent social-media games, and dozens of simulations at Big Fish Games which feature non-violent themes like managing a tribe of castaways, or wealth-building or farming simulation games. Many are playable on mobile devices, and some popular entries are integrated with social networks.
Cover art for Animal Crossing by Nintendo

Nonviolent Strategy Games

Non-violent strategy games on par with the most successful titles in the war-strategy genres (for example, Warcraft, Command & Conquer, Age of Wonders, or Heroes of Might & Magic) so far appear to be fairly rare, and we're not aware of major game developers that have tried to create a completely non-violent turn-based or real-time strategy game similar to the fantasy epics like the Warcraft (in real-time) or Heroes of Might & Magic series (turn-based).
Age of Wonders is one of many absorbing turn-based strategy games that revolves around warfare and battles, though in some cases user-created maps and campaigns can be created in such games to define non-violent objectives.
Many of the best real-time and turn-based strategy games actually came with editors that allowed users to create their own maps and "mods" that would theoretically make designing non-violent campaigns possible. A few possible examples include Warcraft II (which enabled players to create their own maps, and also to set non-violent victory conditions), and the high-quality open-source strategy/RPG game Battle for Wesnoth, which has dozens of extensive user-created campaigns with extensive storylines, including adaptions designed to play like RPGs.

One "crossover" game representing a step in the direction of non-violent strategy/RPG games might be the non-violent Viking Saga series: 
The Viking Saga series and many other non-violent games available through Big Fish Games (among other places) blur the line on their exact genre, and can be found listed as "Adventure," "Time-Management," "Strategy," or all of the above.
The series is part of the "casual" game market designed to have a low learning-curve, and so can't be directly compared to classic series like Heroes of Might & Magic, Warcraft, or Age of Wonders. However, the Viking Saga games still represent a successful blending of real-time strategic gameplay with a detailed storyline comparable to that found in some of the more light-hearted RPGs. The first game is a lengthy plot-driven quest about a young Viking's quest to sail to a distant land and dispose of his father's cursed ring. Lots of humorous interaction and dialogue with "NPC" characters takes place between stages, combined with other fantasy-RPG elements like exploring one's way through a world map one stage at a time. However, the gameplay is based on strategically sending the mettlesome vikings out to perform various tasks like clearing away boulders, gathering resources, and building structures to complete quest-specific goals.
The first challenge in Viking Saga is to gather food, prepare a small shelter, and repair a dock after a shipwreck , in order to recover the hero Ingold's treasure chest. The closest the quest comes to involving combat is to "drive away" creatures like giant spiders found dwelling inside a series of caverns.
With no foes to slay, the challenge in Viking Saga comes primarily from having to build structures, gather and manage resources, and complete goals within a limited time in each stage, requiring the player to use strategy to decide which order to complete tasks in. Like most Big Fish games marketed toward "casual" gamers, however, players have the option to play on either a hard difficulty level setting that demands an optimized strategy, or a "casual" setting that gives players more time to complete goals at a more relaxed pace, and focus on enjoying the unfolding story as the vikings bloodlessly forge their way beyond a storm-wracked coastline, though swamps, forests, mountains, and caves.

Non-violent Racing Games & Sports Games

Sports games have long been popular, and  1958's "Tennis for Two" has been cited as the first video game ever created, while "Pong" became a huge hit that launched Atari's initial success into mainstream gaming. Today there are more high-definition sports and racing titles than ever, many of which involve no violence. To capitalize on the popularity of sports, Nintendo sold its Wii console with the game "Wii Sports" as bundled software to all regions other than Japan.
Racing games also have a long and popular history, and are popular with many gamers who have no interest in other types of sports games. The racing genre has long included "battle racers" that were sometimes overtly violent, but non-violent racing games have always been popular as well.
Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo
Some of the landmark titles that popularized racing games were Sega's Out-Run, Nintendo's futuristic F-Zero and Mario-themed "crossover" Super Mario Kart on the SNES. The games inspired both sequels and imitations. Both "arcade"-styled racers and more realistic racing simulation games like the Gran Turismo series and Forza series also started to become growingly popular as newer generations of console raised the standards in realism in graphic definition and simulated physics, among other things.

Non-violent Experimental Games

Independent game developers have been releasing a growing number of experimental non-violent titles that often have a presentation that makes their games look more like art projects than standard commercial games, but some have been finding commercial success, as well as cult followings and critical acclaim. A few examples include Gone Home, Dear Esther, Flower (a game in which the player enters the dreams of flowers and controls the wind), and a non-violent exploration-based multiplayer game called "Journey" in which players communicate via a musical chime and do not have the option of attacking each other or flaming each other using text or speech. Many of these games have very impressive visuals and production values, and some were very successful commercially despite breaking dramatically from mainstream trends.
Screenshot from the nonviolent PS3 title "Flower"

Non-violent RPGs: Past and Future Prospects

Traditional pen-and-paper RPG systems (most famously the Dungeons & Dragons systems) have a tradition of giving players wide latitude to create their own characters and choose their own inventive strategies for completing quests, including role-playing completely non-violent characters. The freedom to create a character of choice and solve quests using non-violent strategies has been implemented impressively in many otherwise violent RPGs, including games in the Elder Scrolls, Two Worlds, Eschalon, and Fallout series, to name a few. However, RPGs that are inherently non-violent and do not involve violence as a central theme and gameplay mechanism still appear to be something of a rarity.
Even RPGs as uplifting as the SNES classic Chrono Trigger almost always require the player to engage in hundreds of bouts of combat with various enemies, as when these three  "monsters" attack Chrono in the otherwise idyllic setting of Guardia Forest.
Up until recently, the only completely non-violent RPG series I was aware of was Harvest Moon (later renamed "Story of Seasons"), an unusual 1996 SNES console RPG centered around restoring an old farm using non-violent strategies. The game had many sequels on multiple platforms, and was very influential on highly popular farm-simulation "casual" games like Happy Farm and Farmville.
Natsume's Harvest Moon: Like in many console RPG intros, a snowcapped mountain range rises above green fields and evergreen forests, beckoning the hero onward toward adventure— but in this case, the quest is to restore an old farm and become a prosperous, non-violent young farmer...
Harvest Moon's legacy proved that an RPG game could be successful and influential without involving combat, even though its light-hearted setting was admittedly somewhat less "epic" than its counterparts in the Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Breath of Fire, or other "golden age" series of console RPGs released in the 1990s. Some of the reputed non-violent RPG games we've heard of haven't been released outside Japan (including many interactive novels that have only recently started being translated for overseas markets).
The industrious hero of Harvest Moon is shown hard at work on his farm, under the observation of an animal companion.
One notable new offering by an independent developer is the new console-styled RPG "Undertale," sometimes seen with the tagline "The RPG game where you don't have to destroy anyone." Undertale features mandatory combat encounters, but provides the ability to spare the lives of the monsters the player encounters in the game, and directly weaves the theme of avoiding killing into the game's plotline. Undertale very quickly became a cult success, proving that "pacifist run" concepts are no obstacle to an RPG game being successful.
Screenshot from Undertale
Our guess is that it's only a matter of time before we start seeing many more completely non-violent RPGs: In addition to diehard RPG fans who were never strongly attached to turn-based (or other) RPG combat to begin with, the casual games marketplace has also brought in thousands of new gamers as a "gateway" that is converting non-violent casual adventure game players into RPG players as well.
Aveyond II: Ean's Quest isn't a pacifist run RPG, but is an example of a game we've noticed being well received by casual gamers who were introduced to the Aveyond series as their first RPG'ing experience.
Big Fish Games and other distributors whose libraries include independent RPG series titles like Aveyond, Laxius Force (and its prequel 3 Stars of Destiny), Skyborn, and other independently developed RPG-Maker titles have been putting console-styled RPGs in front of PC game players who might otherwise never have heard of either the individual games, or the RPG genre itself. Many of these titles have met with lots of rave reviews from former casual gameplayers (some of whom stated that these were the first RPGs they ever played or encountered) who are now happily buying and playing RPGs, as well as non-violent casual games and non-violent adventure titles.
Most of the new "old-fashioned" console-styled RPG games we've discovered still involve a significant amount of mandatory combat, however. One of the reasons for this is simply the RPG tradition, which features legendary stories involving battles. Another reason is that many newer console-styled RPGs appear to have been created using an English-language edition of the RPG-Maker software, which features a classic turn-based combat engine by default.
Aveyond II
However, since many gamers discovering RPGs for the first time on sites like Big Fish are already part of a market of buyers who avidly buy and play completely non-violent adventure games, the door has obviously been opened for designers to develop completely non-violent RPGs as well— whether they rely on RPG Maker, or other development tools. The commercial success of other non-violent game genres probably indicates that it's only a matter of time before lots more non-violent RPGs start being developed and released.


The Pacifist Challenge Run

A "Pacifist Run," also called a "Pacifist Challenge" is a playthrough of a game that normally involves violence and killing, but whose designers have given players the option of using non-violent strategies instead— often as a challenging alternative to the expected mode of play. Some games are designed so that players can choose to completely avoid killing and violent behavior altogether, while others provide the option to avoid only the majority of mandatory combat encounters.
Two Worlds I: Epic Edition is an example of a "pacifist run" RPG
Attempting "Pacifist Runs" through dangerous game worlds can be an enjoyable experience, due to the heightened challenge of narrowly escaping death at the hands of a multitude of foes and hazards. It also has a contrarian appeal in gaming situations where violence is the default solution, since "pacifist challengers" can try to defy the status quo by finding a way to win without using any form of violence— or at least without killing anything.
A pacifist run mage in Eschalon Book I casting a harmless "entangle" spell on some bandits.
There is no unifying factor among game players motivated to complete pacifist challenge runs though games, who have widely varying real-world philosophies.
Some are motivated by their personal nonviolent philosophies or a desire to have a more peaceful nonviolent gaming experience. Others see the pacifist run mainly as a strategic skill-testing exercise with no apparent philosophical or emotional attachment to minimizing violent behavior.
Others may be under pressure from outside parties, such as one pacifist gamer (featured in the Wall Street Journal's article "Videogamers Embark on Nonkilling Spree") whose mother initially would not allow him to play any games at all unless he was strapped to a treadmill, and later exerted efforts to ban him from playing any games rated above a "T" (Teen) rating. However, after discovering that her teen son had been recording Youtube videos of himself finding nonviolent ways to win otherwise violent games without actually killing anyone, she reportedly expressed approval. Married gamers who report difficulty reaching agreement about which exact games to play with their comparatively pacifistic spouses may also find non-violent or "zero-kill" runs an advantageous compromise.
A merchant from Two Worlds I comments on the benefits of having purchased a large crystal specimen from the protagonist, who acquired the crystal without using violence.
The Future of the Pacifist Run 

Violence in video games is unlikely to be phased out at any time in the foreseeable future, but as games continue to become more sophisticated and intense in their degree of realism, chances are excellent that the future of the "Pacifist Run" will be a bright one:
On the demand side: Veteran gamers bored with violent gameplay already find the pacifist run a refreshing challenge, while others who would ordinarily never buy violent games for various reasons suddenly become willing to spend their money on games that reportedly include the option of a pacifist challenge run.
From the developer's point-of-view, enabling a solid pacifist run isn't necessarily going to cost much extra, since the designers have usually already done most of the work necessary to enable a pacifist-run using their existing game engines: Many of the games that come close to being winnable via a perfect "zero kill run"—yet regrettably fall short by forcing the player to make a just a few mandatory "kills"— would often need only very minor adjustments (such as adding the ability for a player to open a locked door or passage) to enable nonviolent players to win without having to kill anything.
The pacifist challenge run has also been gaining more mainstream support in recent years, sometimes in some surprising places, in which some of the more violent games on the market also give players the option to win with little or no mandatory killing.


Pacifist Gaming & Non-Violent Games

This is a site dedicated to pacifist gaming and non-violent games, covering both games that are non-violent by nature, and also "Pacifist Runs" through games that are typically played violently, but which give non-violent players the option to complete quests and win the game with little or no use of violence.
We're slowly but steadily working on putting together pacifist run game guides to share our results and strategies from winning games using as little violence as possible (even if the game usually contains a lot of conflict, like RPG battles).
Our guides aren't step-by-step walkthroughs, but we hope they'll still be helpful to anyone who likes taking on a "minimum violence" challenge through RPGs or adventures in other genres, and offer our ideas about what strategies did or didn't work well in our own quests to win games with as little violence as we could get away with.