The latest Starfield controversy is a reminder that gamers really love pacifism

The latest Starfield controversy is a reminder that gamers really love pacifism

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Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios

When I wrote up yesterday’s big dollop of Starfield info I was expecting readers to focus on the stuff about housing, mechs and giant snake cults, in roughly that order. I wasn’t expecting a slight stir about the inability to complete the game without killing anyone. “Disappointing”, responded Youtuber Mike BurnFire in the QTs. Opined Mama Bedlam: “A fully pacifist run not existing (without mods) is a genuinely worrying sign to do with the flexibility of what the game can do”. Some players took the news as a brazen provocation. As ManyATrueNerd put it: “CHALLENGE. FUCKING. ACCEPTED.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. There’s a rich history of pacifism in games of all stripes, with entire speedrunning scenes, schools of advanced play techniques and forum subcultures built around the act of beating the game without, you know, beating anybody up. People who hit the level cap in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands by picking flowers for 18 days straight. People who mod Stardew Valley so they can hug all the slimes. People who literally go through hell in Spelunky without raising their hand to a single soul. People who do no-kill runs of Ninja bloody Gaiden.

Within the weird and wonderful worlds of Fallout and Elder Scrolls, you’ve got players like Kyle “The Weirdest” Hinckley, who completed a pacifist run of Fallout 4 on its hardest difficulty by, admittedly, bending the definition of “pacifism” quite a bit: the game only counts a kill as player-inflicted if you use a weapon, so murdering a Radroach by “accidentally” slamming a door on its head is entirely above board. Some players style their characters appropriately: in 2021, Redditor Uebbo dressed himself up as a Courier for a pacifist run of Skyrim, though I doubt this made much impression on the game’s bandit AI.

In general, though, videogame peaceniks have often found Bethesda’s RPGs lacking, given their reputations as games that support any playstyle. After all, they might give you the option of talking your way through or sneaking past a few encounters, but Bethesda games tend to default to combat eventually. As the sage and exacting Derped Crusader put it, in response to our news story: “the past like 4 games, people have wanted the option People have been trying You’d think they’d take it to heart It physically cannot be that difficult”.

I’ve never tried to do a pacifist run, but I can see the appeal. Videogames are only getting more and more obsessed with combat, for all today’s spread of Cosy, Wholesome and/or Artgames in which you can pet the Radroach, etc; find a way to distance yourself from all that, and even the most routine gameworld can seem exotic.

There’s perhaps a comparison to draw with playing abandoned multiplayer shooters, where the combat SFX have outlived the player population. I remember jumping into Battlefield: Bad Company 2 after a long absence, and accidentally joining a session with no other players. Beyond the map perimeter, there was the thud of artillery and the whine of bouncing bullets. But within, total calm. I knew that map intimately, but with nobody around to suppress or flank me, I discovered it anew. Perhaps I’ll try to recreate that lull in Starfield somehow, rather than treating every other spacecraft I encounter like a warp-capable pinata.

Do you have any stories to share about virtual pacifism? This might be a good time to read about videogame interpretations of Gandhi.

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