The video game pacifists
Why people play without killing.
Video games are guilty of reflecting humanity's more violent nature at times - and it's easy to see why when our screens are filled with nameless marines and musclebound maniacs eager to destroy every living thing in their path. As in reality, the virtual worlds we inhabit contain a wide array of human expression, ranging from violent combat to peaceful cooperation. Some players are taking things a step further though, opting to lay down their computerised weapons and adopt a nonviolent, pacifist approach to their virtual endeavours.
Gaming's own cadre of consensus objectors are determined in their desire not to harm other players in video games often designed with violence in mind. This form of virtual ahimsa recently surfaced in everyone's favourite fight to the death, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
Twitch broadcaster KurtJMac and fellow streamer ConeDodger achieved the impossible by winning a round of PUBG while intentionally not attacking or killing another player. It seemed their saviour was the electric blue mist of death, as Kurt explains to Eurogamer.
"I think, as the game progressed, it just happened to present the perfect series of events that we found ourselves both still alive and in the final circle. Sure enough, when the circle closed and started dealing everyone damage, the 'Winner Winner Chicken Dinner' screen popped up to our disbelief."
This bloodless chicken dinner wasn't obtained easily though, as the pair had to lay down their non-violent rules of engagement before the match and commit to their pacifist ideals even if it cost them the game.
"Our self-imposed rules were no guns or weapons, only pickup armour (including frying pan for butt protection), healing items and smoke grenades for concealment," Kurt says.
"The biggest rule was to purposefully avoid causing any damage to any other players."
Kurt's non-violent approach to this inherently homicidal game was commendable, but there are numerous other examples of player ingenuity in the pursuit of pacifism. Players across the world have fought, or not perhaps, to break the stereotypes associated with gaming as a violent medium and encourage more creative ways to play.
It's worth noting that the word pacifism takes on a slightly different meaning in relation to video games. It often alludes to a sort of technical challenge rather than social movement. Anyone aware of games such as Undertale will refer broadly to this style as a pacifist run.
For GoldVision, a YouTuber who created the Grand Theft Auto Pacifist series, what started out as a joke became a statement after he noticed what he recognised as a disconnect between video games and violence. In an attempt to show games in a better light, GoldVision took to GTA Online and endeavoured to show that non-violent action was possible in virtual environments not necessarily associated with that style of play.
"If you've only played video games where you encounter other people and attack them and destroy them then that's going to be a kind of natural internalised response to your problem, you are going to want to eliminate them instead of seeing the other people as an opportunity to work together," GoldVision tells Eurogamer.
Making his reflective video game series has not been easy. Pacifism is not altogether a method of interaction players have welcomed online. Goldvision is clear to define the difference real world pacifism has to that of video game pacifism, stating that in an abstract sense it's theoretically more difficult.
"Trying to find peace in a world that's defined by violence seems often more difficult than finding one that has so many amazing things to do, so many amazing alternatives," he says.
Daniel Mullins, an indie developer and creator of Felix the Peaceful Monk, a YouTube series that explored playing Skyrim as a pacifist, seems to share a similar sentiment.
"I don't think there's a lot of people who have a moral issue with virtual killing. I think if you've immersed yourself in video games you're probably well past the point of no return," he says.
"But I do think when most of the games feature violence as the main mechanic or the main draw for the game it kind of gives games a bad image to non-gamers."
For Mullins, it was the technical challenge of overcoming Skyrim's natural mechanics that first attracted him to the idea of virtual pacifism. In his efforts to avoid violent confrontation he found new ways to play and realised that the series was having a positive impact on people's perception of video games, with many commentators praising his non-violent approach to the game.
"In real life I would advocate for pacifism, I'm not like a warmonger or anything like that, but that wasn't really the inspiration." Mullins says.
"I hadn't really seen it before in video games, but I hadn't necessarily looked for it, it just seemed like an interesting possibility."
If these virtual pacifists have taught us anything, it's that video games offer us endless ways in which to express ourselves. Using innovative techniques to tackle the challenges games present us with strengthens the medium and paves the way for new, more interesting genres, as Kurt points out.
"I think our culture and society informs the media we create, in movies, books, video games, advertising.
"And they in-turn go on to inform and influence the culture and society in cyclical ways. Most of the time they are merely reflections of each other."
GTA pacifist GoldVision shares the same ideals. He believes how we choose to play games has an effect on the future creation of them.
"The principles behind games are what really drives what the next games are going to be," he says.
"So I feel like it's the principles we choose as people who play games that define the gaming world and that's why I've grown to enjoy playing Grand Theft Auto as a pacifist."
In a sense these virtual pioneers may be paving the way for greater cooperation and coexistence in the future of video games. But realistically, it seems unlikely video game makers will all of a sudden tear up the rulebook. Competitive rivalry thrives within video games and as most of you know, the path to dominance is more often than not littered with the virtual bodies of your enemies. It's not called PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds for nothing.