Video games have become an entertainment giant, with games like Grand Theft Auto V making more money than any other entertainment title in history. It also happens to be the poster-child for brutal, over the top violence in video games. In fact, violence is almost a default theme in video games. From Mario squashing hapless Goombas to the gory, demon-smashing action of DOOM, video games and violence seem like two sides of the same coin.
However, it couldn’t be further from the truth. While shooters and other violent action games may be incredibly popular, the video game medium now includes a massive variety of game designs and mechanics. Game developers have come up with many imaginative games that don’t involve you committing violence against other entities in the game.
Of course, there are degrees of violence when it comes to games. In this list we have avoided games that even have the cartoony Mario-jumping-on-things level of violence. This means popular, family-friendly games like Stardew Valley can’t feature here, because you can whack monsters on the noggin in that game.
Here are ten nonviolent video games that will give you a varied taste of what the nonviolent gaming world has to offer.
SimCity is a franchise that’s legendary among sim gamers, but there hasn’t really been a decent one in ages. The last version of the main line games was released in 2013 to major controversy, thanks to a borked launch and always-connected internet requirements, even for the single-player mode! Since then there have been some pretty awful mobile versions, but nothing official that provides us with the modern equivalent of the core SimCity experience.
Which is where Cities: Skylines comes into play. While it may not have the trademark SimCity charm, for obvious reasons, this is undoubtedly the best modern open-ended city sim. Skylines is available on just about every platform, including the Switch! It also has absolutely gorgeous graphics, if you have the computer to drive them.
What really matters is the actual simulation and building mechanics. Skylines is very granular, letting you build just about any city design you like. There are also a mountain of DLC and expansions and some of the later console releases do include some of the DLC in the price. For example, the Switch version includes the After Dark and Snowfall DLC.
The base game lacks the more violent aspects of SimCity, such as natural disasters, but if you really do want them there’s an expansion for that too!
Euro Truck Simulator 2
The enduring popularity of Euro Truck Simulator 2 is a bit of a mystery to be honest. That is, until you actually play it. Yes, this is a game about driving your big rig across the European countryside and there is a game in there that deals with the expansion of your trucking business.
However, what really makes this game worth playing is the pure zen pleasure of putting on some good music and cruising the highways in your truck for hours on end.
Although the nonviolent video game was released back in 2012, it is still actively being supported and expanded by the developer. It has one of the largest active player bases on Steam.
After almost a decade of expansion and upgrading, ETS2 offers you thousands of stress-free hours exploring Europe from the cab if your truck. It’s weird, but it works. You don’t even have to like trucks all that much.
There have been quite a few non-violent “walking simulators” in the last few years. Dear Esther, Gone Home and Journey are typical examples. The problem is that these titles stretch the definition of what counts as a “game”. Instead they could be more accurately described as mildly-interactive digital narrative.
At first, Rime might feel like Journey, but this is actually a proper 3D puzzle game. Your character has to climb, explore, solve puzzles and avoid monsters. While the game is not particularly deep or challenging, it is beautiful and well-crafted.
It has just enough gameplay not to count as a walking sim. You can get it on just about every platform, but we suggest playing it on console, which includes the Switch. The Windows version, in our experience, is pretty poorly optimized.
You play a young boy who washes up on the shores of a strange island, where you must figure out its mysteries, while interacting with the strange spirits that dwell there. It’s definitely worth checking out.
The Talos Principle
This nonviolent video game is also widely available on many platforms. We played it on both a high-end PC and on an iPad Pro. It’s a sci-fi puzzler where you come into the world as a robot, or a person controlling a robot, or someone who thinks they are a robot.
The whole point of this game is to unravel the large mysteries of the world you find yourself in and we’ll let you experience it first-hand, since that’s such an integral part of the game.
The primary game mechanic is the collection of Tetris pieces. They are locked behind puzzle zones where you have to solve some brain-bending physics and logic puzzles to open the way to the next piece. It’s a lot of fun and, apart from getting your robot body destroyed and reset, there’s no real violence to speak of.
Forza Horizon 4
Yes, this is another vehicle-based game, which seems like an easy choice when looking for non-violent games, but Forza Horizon 4 isn’t a simulation management game like Euro Truck Simulator. It’s also not your average racing game either. It’s an open-world game featuring deep online integration and a wide variety of vehicles, events and racing types.
There’s nothing quite like this iteration of Forza, which has a long and storied history on the Xbox. This version is also available on Windows and is, at the time of writing, part of Xbox Game Pass on PC. If you love racing, this is one game that can scratch almost every itch.
The only thing to keep in mind is that Forza Horizon 4 is not quite a sim and not quite an arcade game. It’s a nice balance of the two, but if you really want a hardcore sim in the vein of Gran Turismo, it’s better to look elsewhere.
Another game with cars in it? We promise, this isn’t like the other two wheeled-game entries on the list. Instead this is “car-soccer”. You can play with someone else against the computer, just against the computer, with the computer and so on. You control an RC car and have to punt a giant soccer ball into the other team’s goal. Easy right?
Well, Rocket League is easy to learn, but almost impossible to master. Experts at the game can pull off seemingly superhuman moves, but there are plenty of practice hours ahead of you if that’s your goal. Also available on Switch, which makes for a wonderful nonviolent video game to play with your mates locally.
The Tetris Effect
The “Tetris Effect” is that thing that happens when you play a game like Tetris too much and keep seeing it when you close your eyes. It’s also the name of a video game that’s taken the world by storm.
Available for both Windows and PS4, it’s Tetris like you’ve never seen it before. You still place your tetrominos and clear lines, but it’s been spiced up with music and rhythm features that create something both new and hypnotic. The game is especially popular in VR, but still pretty good without it.
Fez is a couple of years old now, but still holds up perfectly thanks to its lovingly rendered retro graphics. The big gimmick in this side-scrolling platformer is that it isn’t actually a 2D game. The whole world can be rotated in 3D, which helps solve puzzles and opens up pathways for your character. The world is fascinating, the artwork inspired and you can play Fez on a wide range of platforms.
Including PS3, PS4 and Vita. the Vita version is the best mobile take on the game in our opinion, but you can also play on iOS, which has a much larger install base.
A sequel to the popular Wii U game, Splatoon 2 is exclusive to the Nintendo Switch and is a third-person multiplayer shooter. Except, there are no bullets and no blood to be found here.
You play as a squid-person armed with a paint gun. Well, ink if we are being true to the game’s terminology. It has a super-creative mechanic where you paint surfaces in your own ink color and then morph into squid form to speed across the level.
There’s a single-player mode too, so you don’t absolutely need friends to play. It’s just that multiplayer is the main draw of this very family-friendly title.
The last entry on the list is a bit of a cheat, since it includes two nonviolent video games. Yet these titles are pretty short and should be played as a pair. This is a physics puzzler where your character is tormented by an insane computer running “experiments”. You need to use your portal gun to figure out your way through, dodging ever more deadly traps.
The writing is laugh-out-loud hilarious and the gameplay tight and exciting. The Portal games are often cited as some of the best games of all time and the fact that you don’t have to shoot anyone to play it was and still is a breath of fresh air.
Love and Peace
Nonviolent games are still pretty rare, but we are seeing more and more titles that don’t rely on murder as their central game mechanic. There will always be violent games and there’s nothing wrong with that, but who can argue with having more choice when it comes to picking your preferred digital entertainment?