GTA without the guns: Meet the pacifist players that refuse to kill

What happens when the player refuses to kill? An increasing number of people are finding out the answer to this question, finding new ways to beat games and defy the intentions of developers by shunning violence.

It only takes a cursory search through YouTube to find playthroughs dedicated to engaging with games without resorting to violence. Labeled “pacifist let’s plays” or “no-kill runs”, these videos focus on playing popular titles without killing a single non-playable character or enemy. Such is the case in artist Kent Sheely’s “Modern Pacifism: Call of Duty” series, where he resolved to play Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare as a non-violent protagonist.

“I had already been reading about games that were designed to be completable without killing anyone, such as Fallout: New Vegas and the original Deus Ex,” Sheely tells me over email. “These are both games that pride themselves upon the range of freedom they offer to the player, and so I wondered if it was possible to do this in a game like Modern Warfare, which was intended to be a much more linear experience.”

Fuelled by curiosity, Sheely set about formulating a strategy that involved dodging enemy fire, nudging players, and biding just enough time to allow the artificial intelligence to extinguish the opposition. This proved easier said than done, however, due to the sheer number of enemies onscreen, as well as the compulsion to fire back.

“Having a weapon that’s constantly in front of you and a roomful of enemies firing at you from all sides makes it difficult not to pull the trigger.”

“Having a weapon that’s constantly in front of you and a roomful of enemies firing at you from all sides makes it difficult not to pull the trigger, but with a little practice I adjusted my play style to be more defensive,” he says. “I also developed new strategies based around urging my AI teammates to move forward and take shots that were meant for me, such as nudging them out of cover and running forward through the enemy line so that my allies would be triggered to move up. I also used the game’s console to remove the gun model and crosshair from the screen, to give myself an even greater sense of vulnerability and get myself in the right state of mind to survive.”

Just a normal person in a hyper-violent world

Curiosity isn’t the only reason why players are attempting this exploit. Another motivation is to benefit the role-playing experience and promote alternative ways of engaging with the world of a game. That is the case in Jeremy Mattheis’ GTA Online video series, where he role-plays as a normal person that has been transplanted into Rockstar’s warped version of the United States.

“I started the Grand Theft Auto Pacifist videos primarily as an experiment,” Mattheis says. “Video games offer the opportunity to explore new worlds as new people, and I wanted to explore a violent world as a peaceful person. I wanted to test the potential. Most games weld a gun to your avatar’s hands, you’re reduced to a hunt-or-die animal state and peacefulness isn’t really relevant. But Grand Theft Auto has always left a little wiggle room for non-violent exploits, and I wanted to make the most of these.

“It’s important that no-one thinks I’m advocating universal non-violence or the banning of guns in games or anything like that. I think players have a right to explore ideas, and death in games is an inconvenience at worst. It’s not about censorship, or protesting or hating people who are playing differently than me. It’s about assuming the role of Francisco, a ’normal’ person in a hyper-violent world, and trying to survive in spite of it.”

“It’s about assuming the role of Francisco, a ’normal’ person in a hyper-violent world, and trying to survive in spite of it.”

Likewise, for Kyle Hinckley (known by his channel name The Weirdist), the idea of promoting ways for players to expand their options was a deciding factor in why he chose to play Fallout 4 in this manner. Loading up the game, he set himself the challenge of creating a pacifist character build that would allow him to complete Fallout 4’s campaign without utilising violence – a task that would prove immensely difficult considering the title’s narrow mission objectives.

“Originally, I had heard that Fallout 4 wasn’t designed with pacifism in mind, which was a departure from the rest of the series,” he explains. “My experience with Fallout has shown me, above all, that Bethesda’s character-creation options are so vast that even they don’t know what kinds of things can be done. I therefore decided that I would begin immediately searching for pacifist routes as soon as the game came out.”

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