Playing Pacifism

  • Author / Creator
    Budac, Robert
  • Violence is commonplace in video games, making the practice of engaging in pacifist runs — the completion of violent video games using minimal amounts of violence, or avoiding it all together — a fascinating object of study. In real life, the practice of pacifism is about opposing violence due to one's personal principles or beliefs. In video games it has come to mean progressing using nonlethal tactics, and has, at least historically, been motivated by a desire to add an extra challenge to completing the game. This thesis will look at nine games in roughly the order they were published — beginning with Ultima IV released in 1985 to Undertale released in 2015 — in order to show how emergent player behavior and developer-led initiatives to allow for nonviolent approaches came together to form a practice of pacifism within video games. The role-playing game Undertale in particular touches heavily on themes of pacifism, in a genre otherwise known for its reliance on conflict as a means for advancement, and so is the main focus for the second (and final) chapter.
    To evaluate these games in a way that would allow them to be readily comparable, I identified three key mechanics from Undertale that pertain to its message of pacifism, and which could be generalized to the other games. To identify specific game mechanics, I used Sicart's method of finding the simple verbs in the game, as defined in "Defining Game Mechanics." The mechanics chosen were attacking, sparing, and save scumming (basically the practice of reloading a save file any time something undesirable happens). Then, in the interests of critically analyzing these three mechanics and their effects on the rest of the game and the player, I utilized the MDA framework established by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, and Robert Zubek. Standing for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics, the MDA framework was developed with researchers and game developers in mind, to examine how a game's basic mechanics combine to provoke certain emotional responses in a player. And finally, this analysis focuses on three elements at the start of each game in order to understand how violence is framed in the game as a means of navigating the puzzles and plot: the tutorial (either one built into the game or existing in an out of game manual), the first level, and dialogue and reactions of NPCs to the player's actions.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.