Virtual Pacifism

Friday, February 10, 2012


Oklahoma lawmaker William Fourkiller introduced a bill this week that would introduce a 1% tax on violent video games. But as Wall Street Journal reporter Conor Dougherty recently reported, a growing number of gamers who play these violent video games do so non-violently. Dougherty calls it virtual pacifism, essentially finding ways to play games that incorporate killing and maiming without engaging in either. Brooke talks to Dougherty about the trend, and also speaks to Brock Soicher, a 16-year-old virtual pacifist.

Boyz II Men - War

Comments [15]


For those interested in this phenomenon, take a look at Livin' In Oblivion by The Elder Strolls or his previous Half-Life 2 inspired comic Concerned: The Half-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman. Great comedy writing!

Feb. 16 2012 09:57 AM
Eric Hanson from Milwaukee, WI

A war-sim game on the PS3 called MAG that came out last year was one of my favorites. I'm OK at the shooting parts, but as Brock does in Battlefield 3, I would occupy myself with reviving my teammates - sometimes at the risk of my own virtual hide.

Another thing that the game's 256-player architecture allowed for was general mayhem. I'd sneak my way deep into enemy lines, then disable one of their emplacements. That act would send up an alarm that would pull them back from the front, giving my teammates the upper hand in their push toward the objective.

I may not always go the pacifist route, but I DO like that I now have the freedom to find ways to play games that others might not have thought of.

Feb. 14 2012 03:20 PM
Thomas Smith from Montreal

This piece was poorly researched and rather absurd. As an example, Conor Dougherty just outright ignores the fact that Deus Ex is designed as a sneaking game, and the first mission explicitly requires that you complete with no casualties to get all the bonuses. Nonviolence is routinely rewarded throughout the game. It's one of the central gameplay mechanics.

He uses phrases like "I'm not sure of this is true." Well, find out if it's true before you say it on the radio as evidence of your phoney theories about a media format you clearly do not engage with. I can tell you right now it's not possible to complete COD with "just a shield" because there aren't shields in every level and there are plenty of cinematic scripted events where you must use a gun and kill people.

Anyway, this was a thoroughly disappointing and hokey segment with a completely uninitiated pundit sounding off about something he has no clue about. OTM regularly misreports when it comes to video gaming, but this time it was just over the top.

Feb. 13 2012 11:02 AM
John Pt

As a writer and avid gamer (and generally agreeable, totally non-violent person), I was ultimately glad to hear someone provide some counterpoint to the usual onslaught of misinformation about "the child-corrupting horrors of violent video games" in popular media. That said, your research on the subject was incomplete and embarassingly sloppy. I'll admit these are personal pet peeves, and maybe I'm letting them bother me more than I should, but I've come to expect better from NPR in general, and OTM in particular.

First off, if you're going to report on video games at all, at least bother to get the game titles right. There were at least three misquoted (or incomplete) titles in this piece. This sort of consistent mistake makes your usually-very-respectable show look lazy and unprofessional, especially when a 15-second visit to any of a dozen gaming news sites would set you straight. You're undermining your own credibility here, and similar mistakes would not be tolerated in reports about movies, music, or any other media. It's akin to writing an article about "the Beetle's classic album, 'Dr. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Man'" and expecting to be taken seriously.

Second, while I understand that the WSJ piece you reference is new, the practice of "pacifist" gaming is anything but. For example, reporter Conor Dougherty brought up (though he obviously hadn't played) "Deus Ex: Human Revolution," a game that not only allows, but actually rewards players for finding non-violent ways to handle dangerous situations. What no one bothered to mention was the fact that "Human Revolution" was a prequel to the PC classic "Deus Ex," which amazed gamers and critics by offering similar non-violent gameplay options all the way back in 2000. Before that, I remember some friends and I spending hours attempting what we called "Gandhi-style" playthroughs of games like "Super Mario Brothers" in 1988 and '89, and I'm certain we weren't the first to think it up.

I apologize for being so critical (and long-winded, wow!), but I've grown especially tired of the long-standing assumption in media circles that no one engaged in such high-minded activities as news analysis or media criticism could possibly also enjoy gaming, let alone care about how accurately the former is portrayed by the latter. I'm very passionate about both, and I think you'll find, over time, that my attitude isn't an anomaly. The fact is, more and more of your listeners every year have grown up seeing video games as legitimate media, deserving of the same respect due to music or movies or literature. All it would take is a few small efforts to ensure accuracy and integrity in your coverage of games to put you leaps and bounds ahead in terms of credibility with this new generation of listeners.

P.S.: LOVE the show (otherwise I wouldn't have bothered), and thanks for reading.

Feb. 13 2012 02:20 AM

Yea this is one of those "second life" stories which is interesting to people who know nothing about gaming, and which gamers find absolutely absurd.

"Sneak" around gaming has been around for a while, a decade ago you could play a game called thief where you snuck in the shadows and avoided conflict if possible because if the guards descended upon'd likely loose just like in real life.

Medic classes have been around in games for a while as well, famously team fortress and team fortress 2 have a medic class. Sure you can kill too but mostly you do more healing than killing.

That kid claiming to play pacifist is being dead weight on his team. Its as if you ran a kitchen full of cooks and suddenly one of your cooks decided they wouldn't touch anything with dairy or eggs in it. On a server there are limited team slots on each team, and if one of your teammates is dead weight, of course others are going to question whether they should play with you.

Feb. 13 2012 12:26 AM
Andrew M from Santa Rosa CA

Good story and interview, thanks. Very refreshing to hear this kid's point of view.

Feb. 12 2012 05:48 PM
John A.

Oh the games I'd buy if they just didn't involve shooting from the start...

Feb. 12 2012 04:04 PM


Feb. 12 2012 03:52 PM
Ryan from Richmond, VA

Passive Aggression series on the YouTube channel. We have a weekly show where we win games without killing a single person. It's actually become a very popular episodic in response to a growing counter-culture that can no longer stomach the testosterone-fueled violent content of gamers who post footage.

Feb. 12 2012 01:33 PM
Jack from NYC

Growing number?
How many exactly? And how many last year?

Feb. 12 2012 11:05 AM

An art group called Third Faction has been exploring this idea for a number of years

Feb. 12 2012 10:33 AM

I think it's damned inventive to try to play through a shooter without killing. The kid is funny and bright, I'd have him on my team any day!

Feb. 12 2012 10:13 AM
clopha deshotel

This is a great twist on "serious gaming" and could prompt somebody to improve the article at Wikipedia -
This article is written like a personal reflection or essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style. (December 2007)

I know a group of students (serious students?) working on a gaming "battle" between two hotel staffs in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where the Tomb of Eve is. They are trying to attract tourists; religious and non-religious ones pay the same for a room, etc. This Eve is the one taken away from Adam by Lucifer in that familiar Biblical story - you know the one.

You guys at OTM must have had some great fun with this before air-time! Brock's videos are a real hoot!!!

Feb. 12 2012 08:04 AM
CMDR Shepard

Wow noobs talking about doing nooby things in video games. If you don't want to shoot anybody in BF3 GO PLAY ANOTHER GAME. Brock stay off my team and go have fun getting ZERO POINTS hiding in Uncharted 3. Oh yeah and why exactly is Brock a videogame pacifist? Is he trying to prove some deep point about how it's wrong to kill virtual people? Or is he just trying to stand out from the crowd?

I can understand getting through single player games without killing anyone. That's a trophy, an accomplishment. This is a common element of many stealth based games. But Battlefield?? I'll get 25 kills AND more revives than you, who's helping the team more? SMH

Feb. 11 2012 09:08 PM

Just don't play with my brother in law. He'll frag you.
Sadly, I get motion sickness in the more fun first hand shooter games. *sigh*
Thanks for broadcasting this. We need more real information about how people really play these games.

Feb. 11 2012 06:47 AM

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