2012-10-17_00001On the latest episode of The Netophiles, where my co-host Kristen Fuller and I talk about the issue of violence and video games (a great discussion you don’t want to miss out on), I mention the game Dishonored. It’s a recent title and new IP that is set in a steampunk-influenced world where you are wrongfully framed for murder and must work with rebels to clear your name, while working to overthrow the evil folks that tried to put you down

Seems cliche, right? I know I sort of thought about it in that way, just because the revenge trope has sort of been done to death in video games, and the violent revenge trope was supposedly milked for all its worth by the closing of the God of War series. If you looked solely at the marketing and promotion for Dishonored, you might think this as well. After all, the grisly destruction of bad guys via pistol or bladed weapon is what keeps butts in seats playing (on our podcast, we mention that the top 10 games of a couple of years ago had mostly games with violence in them).

When I grabbed the game for myself over my holiday break, I looked forward to a happy traipse through a dystopian setting, seeing how quickly I could eviscerate my enemies into little pieces before rats came to devour them. Those of you who know me, know that in the realm of moral choice or good/evil games, I’m usually well into the Dark Side of the Force, something that contrasts with the Nice Guy personality I’m known for. I dunno – something about not playing the hero is seductive in its way of sucking me in – not to mention the funny looks I get from friends who aren’t used to seeing such villainous behavior from me.

But that’s when Dishonored gave me a little surprise – it made me actually want to play the non-lethal way that apparently, was introduced into the game during development after testers expressed a strong desire to go through the entire game without killing a single person. Here’s a couple of reasons why I decided to play nice-nice this time around. There’s a couple of light spoilers about the story here, so read on at your own risk, or skip to the bold part where I put aside the spoilers.

One reason is the fact that Dishonored takes a bit of a more inventive way of approaching things non-lethally. Most of the “don’t kill” options in other games are just that – merciful, altruistic goody-goody choices that don’t really appeal to me. Cutting negotiations short – literally – with my sword is typically my response to such saccharine sweet options. But Dishonored reflects its dark setting by giving you non-lethal options that, well, aren’t always so merciful – just simply non-fatal. One of the options early in the game involves fire branding a target with a mark that shamefully discharges him from power. Another involves giving a gang lord a combination in return for him not killing your targets but still taking care of them for you by cutting out their tongues. Did I mention the way you get the combination is to deliver shock therapy (non-lethally) to someone? These are the kinds of things that make playing non-lethal in Dishonored so fun, if for nothing else to see how the game cooks up an innovative way to non-lethally yet definitely hurt your targets.

The other reason is, of course, in gameplay. The only other game that kept my interest in sneaking around and not killing people was Metal Gear Solid 4, and its for the same reasons it appeals to me in Dishonored. In both games, there are multiple ways and methods for dispatching your enemies without killing them. In MGS4 you could use tranq bullets, distract enemies, and use martial arts to drop them. In Dishonored, you can use sleep darts, possession, lure them off to get whacked unconscious, or resort to the good old standby finisher, a sleeper choke hold from behind. Both of these games make pursuing non-lethal methods relatively fresh, and (mostly) free of repetition. Throw in the possibility of a not-so-dark ending for playing this way, and I’m sold.

Putting aside spoilers, if more games took this interesting approach to playing the non-lethal way of approaching conflicts, I might be more inclined to pursue them rather than go down my usual road of Jawa-killing, backstabbing, and shooting while nefariously cackling to myself. More seriously, it does show that developers are willing to ensure that players have as much of an appealing gameplay experience as possible, even if they have to change their design to do so. The non-violent manner of solving problems, especially as a way of completely beating a game, is one that proves that developers like the ones behind Dishonored can and do provide such opportunities – and still are lucrative and successful for it, if the acclaim the game is receiving is any indication.

Time to go back to choking out some corrupt politicians!