Peaceful victory: why more games should feature diplomacy

In games we often associate victory conditions with beating an opponent through force or strength.  The players amass resources, develop a unit[s], and proceed to best their opponents through direct conflict.  As games begin to develop more complex victory conditions we are starting to see a rise in win conditions which also include self expression.  Meaning that players are able to complete a task with greater and greater freedom to do so with their victory being in line with their playstyle.

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(Clean Hands achievement icon in Dishonored)

In Dishonored there is an achievement titled “Clean Hands” whose conditions are to”Complete the game without killing anyone.” In a game focused on stealthy, assassination mechanics, the achievement is one that requires extra care and restraint, since the player is essentially ignoring the high octane combat elements, and adhering to a non-violent playthrough. The joy of the game then comes from the challenge of committing to incapacitating the necessary enemies through non-lethal means, and sneaking past all other engagements, completing the game as a specter.

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(An aggressive force with a ferocious creature advancing on an enemy in Black and White)

Games such as Black and White released in 2001, featured a dynamic victory condition which included war and peace; depending on how the player developed their land and their creature, the player could either raise an aggressive force focused on war or a peaceful society focused on a happy population.  If the player wanted to progress through war they could develop and army and advance on their enemy and conquer them by force to win. If they wanted to progress through peace they could develop defenses and build temples and monuments to increase the happiness of their people such that their opponent’s populations would migrate from their territories to the peaceful player’s land.  It was a rewarding experience to know that the player could develop such a peaceful and accepting society that others would lay down their arms and join their culture.

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(A peaceful creature happily aiding in the construction of a temple in Black and White by removing a boulder)

The Mass Effect trilogy explores the complication of peace and violence through its revolutionary narrative, that merged each of the 3 games’ choices into a singular story.  Within Mass Effect’s multi-title narrative; seemingly inconsequential, ancillary characters proved to be powerful allies later in the franchise if the player had impressed them through diplomacy.  As a counter point; enemies that had been spared would return with a vengeance, illustrating the complexities of being merciful and opting for peace.

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(A morality speech divergence within Mass Effect)

With all the progress we have made in including non-violent paths to victory we still must push to make them more challenging, enjoyable, and viable playstyles. Many games today still end up falling into a moral binary of good and bad; with good being violent justice and bad being collateral violence.  Beyond the inclusion of peaceful options for the sake of playstyle diversity; they serve to teach the player of the reprecussions of non-violence and diplomacy. That peace involves more than simply solving a single conflict; that it requires consistency of character, empathy for the parties involved, collaboration, and continual negotiation.

 

Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

 

 

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