Violence is to gaming as, “I’m not here to make friends,” is to reality television. Historically, the two have been inseparable.
But there are exceptions to every rule — I’d be shocked if anyone ever said, “I’m not here to make friends,” on “The Great British Bake Off,” for example.
Similarly, there are plenty of examples of video games that aren’t about super soldiers or assassins — You just have to be willing to look around a little. This time, we’ve done the looking for you.
These are the 11 best games that aren’t about killing stuff.
'Broken Age' is an old-school point-and-click adventure game, kind of like 'Myst' or 'Monkey Island,' but it has a really refreshing storybook art style and a killer voice cast: one of the main characters is played by Elijah Wood, and Jack Black makes a cameo as a hilariously overconfident tyrant.
You'll control two main characters: one is a boy who lives aboard a spaceship with his overbearing computerised parents, and the other is a girl who's trying to stop a disturbing ritual involving the sacrifices of maidens to a giant monster named Mog Chothra.
Over time, you'll start to learn more about what links these two characters, but discovering the relationship between them is something you'll have to solve yourself. You won't be let down.
Platforms: PC/Mac/Linux, PlayStation 4, Android, PlayStation Vita, iOS
'Oxenfree' is a game unlike any other on this list: rather than rely on action and explosions to get your heart pumping, it borrows from the best of what the sci-fi horror genre has to offer.
The story centres around Alex, a young woman who travels with some friends to a sleepy tourist destination on a small island that used to house a top-secret military installation. Sounds like a recipe for a totally normal and not-at-all-creepy weekend, right?
I'm not saying for sure that there's something fishy going on at Edwards Island, but there totally is. If you're a fan of the Netflix series 'Stranger Things,' you need to get your hands on 'Oxenfree' immediately.
Platforms: PC/Mac/Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
In 'Abzu,' you'll spend your time exploring a vast and beautiful ocean paradise. It's one of the rare games that actually feels restorative to play, as if you just sat and relaxed by the beach for an hour.
Between the orchestral soundtrack, the abundance of gorgeous sea life, and its ability to tell a moving story entirely without words, 'Abzu' should be on everyone's must-play list, regardless of whether you're specifically seeking out a game that's not about killing stuff.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
Playing 'Bound' is like walking through a hostile piece of modern art. It's technically a platformer, like 'Super Mario 64,' but that barely scratches the surface of what playing it is actually like.
Instead of pouncing on goombas, 'Bound' is a meditative, emotionally-charged game about exploring beautifully designed spaces that respond to your character's movements. The main character moves like a ballet dancer, using her dance moves to create an impenetrable force field against the onslaught of materials the environment throws at her.
These sequences are intertwined with small scenes from a family's home life, leaving you to put the pieces together and sort through exactly what's going on.
Platform: PlayStation 4
'Inside' might not be about killing stuff, but that doesn't mean it isn't dark. In fact, it's probably the creepiest game I've played this year.
In it, you play a vulnerable young boy fighting for survival in a harsh landscape where just one attack from an enemy will instantly kill him. Instead of fighting against your enemies head-to-head, you have to use the environment to evade and outsmart them.
As you progress, you'll slowly start to piece together more information about what's going on in this world populated with zombie-like figures, vicious dogs, massive machinery, and brutal science experiments.
So, while 'Inside' isn't violent per se, the eerie and oppressive atmosphere make it a decidedly challenging experience that's worth your time.
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
If you're not playing 'No Man's Sky' yet, you've almost certainly heard about it. In it, you're set loose to explore an entire galaxy that's been generated by an algorithm rather than by the hands of a designer, meaning that every discovery you make is likely to truly be something only you have seen. Some of the planets people have found so far are breathtaking.
Every other player is exploring the exact same galaxy that you are, but given that there are literally quintillions of planets in 'No Man's Sky,' the likelihood that you'll find something already discovered by another player isn't very likely.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
'Octodad: Dadliest Catch' is not only non-violent, it's also one of the most hilarious and downright bizarre video games I've ever played.
You play as the patriarch of a pretty typical family, with one giant exception: You're an octopus trying to convince everyone around you that you're just a normal person. So, rather than fight off enemies or go on adventures through castles, Octodad's trials and tribulations lie in the most basic of everyday tasks, like going to the grocery store and mowing the lawn.
And, since you have a bunch of squirmy tentacles -- which you control individually -- instead of arms and legs, expect those basic tasks to be immensely difficult, but hilarious to watch.
For an added challenge, play with a friend: Each of you will control half of Octodad's limbs, upping the difficulty level to Herculean levels.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC/Mac/Linux, mobile platforms
'Firewatch' is one of the best games of the year, partly because its art direction is breathtaking, but mostly because it tells an incredibly moving story in just a few short hours.
You play a man named Henry working in the Shoshone National Forest as a forest fire lookout. You'll explore the wilderness, unravel mysteries about the area, and grow closer with Delilah, a co-worker who you interact with exclusively via walkie-talkie.
The Hitchcock-style mystery at its heart will tinge that beauty with a healthy dose of paranoia, but the act of exploring this gorgeous rendition of the wilderness is completely transfixing.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC/Mac/Linux
Fair warning: make sure you have tissues on hand for 'That Dragon, Cancer.'
The main inspiration behind 'That Dragon, Cancer,' was the real-life experiences of two of its developers, Ryan and Amy Green, who had a son die of cancer at the age of four.
In it, you'll experience what they went through, seeing your child slowly succumb to the disease as you sit by, powerless to stop it. It's certainly not the most easygoing of video game experiences, but certainly one of the most affecting.
'Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime' technically involves space combat, but it's really about teamwork and cooperation in the face of seemingly unbeatable odds.
This is a multiplayer game for up to four players -- though you can play with a computer-controlled pal if you're flying solo -- in which each of you will be frantically running around to different parts of a spaceship, paying attention only to the part of the ship that's most important at that very instant.
So, for example, you might be hurtling towards a giant asteroid, but you currently have five giant alien ships shooting at you, so you run to the area of the ship with the guns first, take care of business, and then flee to the part of the ship that lets you change your trajectory.
Also, you get to play as squishy little astronauts and soak in the joyful, pulsing electronic soundtrack. There's a lot to love.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC/Mac
'The Witness' is probably the most controversial choice on this list, only because it will utterly consume some people's lives while it will send an equal amount of people running in the opposite direction.
Essentially, it's an open-world puzzle game where you're the sole inhabitant of an otherwise abandoned island, exploring its eerily quiet buildings and beautiful landscapes. Every puzzle in the game is a sort of line-based maze puzzle, but the way 'The Witness' slowly introduces new rules for these puzzles over the course of the game makes it feel like you're learning a whole new language.
If that in any way sounds like your jam, 'The Witness' will completely captivate you for weeks. It is in no way an exaggeration to say that 'The Witness' is simultaneously one of the most challenging and also one of the most peaceful games I've ever played.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC
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