Great moments in PC gaming: Giving up on a pacifist run

Corvo lurks on a window ledge, blade drawn
(Image credit: Bethesda)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.


(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Year: 2012
Developer: Arkane Studios

I've never fully understood the appeal of pacifist runs in games. I've been on this Earth for decades and I've spent all those long years killing absolutely no one. Why would I want to play a game where I can kill people and then not kill people—especially when that game is full of wonderful deadly weapons? This is finally my chance to indulge in a bit of harmless bloodlust! I'm gonna take it.

What I do understand is the appeal of the additional challenge that comes with a pacifist run. Your stealth has to be immaculate because you can't just start blastin' if things go wrong. Easy kills become complicated knockouts, and bodies need to be safely hidden to avoid alerting more enemies. Observation, planning, eavesdropping, and memorization are needed to learn level layouts and enemy patterns. It's the kind of work that goes into a speedrun—but then you do it slowly and carefully.

It seems like a great way to replay a game you love, and back in 2012 there was nothing I loved more than Dishonored. I was looking for any excuse to play it again, and to change things up I decided to try not killing anyone. (It doesn't hurt that Dishonored also gives you more enemies in later levels, plus a downer ending, if you do kill a lot at the start of the game.)

Right away I knew a pacifist run of Dishonored wasn't going to be my jam. Killing and disposing of people in Dunwall is just so much fun. There's a landmine that slices people up with barbed wire. You can rewire electrical grids to vaporize enemies who walk through it. You can summon rat swarms to eat people. And I'm just supposed to choke dudes unconscious and hide their still-breathing bodies so they can continue their lives? What am I, a Good Samaritan?

But I did it, and for a while I enjoyed taking a more leisurely trip through Dishonored's levels, carefully watching and learning patrol patterns and picking the perfect moment to non-lethally strike, then skulking away to carefully hide the sleeping guards I'd choked out. Eventually though, things went sideways.

It started in a level that had a room with some tall bookshelves. I'd strangled a guard unconscious but there were several others nearby, so I took the sleeping guard and plopped him down on top of one of the tall shelves. It was high enough that passing guards wouldn't see the body if they walked past. Perfect.

(Image credit: Bethesda)

Those shelves became my go-to body-stashing spot for the level. I'd choke someone, carry them back, and put them on top of a shelf. The issue was the shelves became crowded pretty quickly, and I had to lay one guy on the floor while I rearranged the other two already up there. I was in the midst of this when I heard some noise and saw the guy I'd placed on the ground being messily devoured by rats. Dang. That's not exactly my fault, but it still counts as a failure.

I started from my last save point and once again stuffed a couple bodies on the shelves, but in trying to be quick I got spotted by a guard and, in a panic, killed him. I started again, this time knocking one sleeping guard onto the floor while handling a different one. Rats ate him again.

I'm not sure how many times I attempted to get three different guards onto the top of those shelves, but things just kept going wrong and every time it resulted in someone dying, ruining my pacifist run over and over and over. 

(Image credit: Bethesda)

I distinctly remember, on my last try, staring intently at the three sleeping bodies on top of the shelves. It seemed like I had finally done it. Then, as I watched, one guard slowly slid off the edge of the shelf. He landed on his head, breaking his neck. Failed again.

Fine. Fine. I was done with these eggshell-necked, rat-bait guards. I stabbed one sleeping guard to death just because, and I threw the other off the shelf and watched him bounce on the hard floor before being swarmed by rats. Then I made a point to deliberately kill every other guard in the entire level, as gruesomely as possible, even those I would normally bypass. 

And after all that careful creeping and skulking and gently incapacitating enemies, trying over and over to score a body count of zero—man, it felt so liberating and satisfying to just go ham on everyone! That's why I'm not cut out for pacifist runs: not killing made me a far worse killer than I ever was. From now on, I'm gonna stick to violence. Because if I don't, things will get very, very bloody.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.