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.
|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.
|The first area on the mysterious island the player must explore, from the original release of Cyan's Myst.
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
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
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.
|The industrious hero of Harvest Moon is shown hard at work on his farm, under the observation of an animal companion.
|Screenshot from Undertale
|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.
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.