Seeking pretty, engaging games with no violence.
August 16, 2013 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Need non-violent game recommendations. Have Xbox 360 (never used), a badass PC, and iPad. Like pretty, detailed environments, exploration, puzzles/deduction, mystery, adventure. Dislike all but the most very mild violence, and also not very good with things that are time-sensitive (like having to do things very, very quickly or have a good reaction time to succeed). Many years ago in the mid-late '90s I enjoyed Myst/Riven, The 7th Guest, Zork Nemesis, the X-Files game, the Titanic game, and a couple other exploring worlds/figuring things out things that I can't remember the names of.

I'm currently reading Codex by Lev Grossman, and also yesterday this thread, and they both make me really miss the exploration/puzzle/adventure games I played in college. I've tried browsing the Internet to find things I would like, but it seems like so many things are scary/violent and it's so common that I can't always tell if something would be up my alley or not. The most recent question on AskMe is this, which is over a year old and not exactly the same as what I think I'm looking for (I'm fine with "this room has a puzzle, solve it") so hopefully this isn't too much of a duplicate.

I really just like wandering around, looking at stuff, figuring things out. First person is better, I think, and I like being alone in the world, though for instance I liked the Titanic game which had some interaction elements so that's OK too. I'm thinking about playing whatever games I find with my spouse, so that's maybe a factor too.

Are there many games like this being released anymore, without a lot of violence/gore/scariness? Or are the games I used to play part of a genre that doesn't really exist anymore? I have been out of the "gaming" (ha I know what real gamers are like so I hestitate to even use that word) loop for so long that I just have no idea where to start and there seems to be an enormous amount of information about games to sift through, so I'm hoping for some specific recommendations, or maybe a pointer to another site to which this question might be better suited.

I don't even know enough to know if I've left out anything vital here. Help.
posted by rabbitrabbit to Grab Bag (46 answers total) 134 users marked this as a favorite
You might well enjoy Antichamber, then.
And maybe also Kairo.
posted by pipeski at 12:17 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ilomilo! It's an interesting puzzle game with no violence at all. Lots of fun!
posted by Arbac at 12:21 PM on August 16, 2013

Machinarium is a really good browser-based puzzle game. It has a playable demo.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:23 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

You will love Dear Esther. I'm specifically recommending it for you because it is first person, you're alone in the world, and there is no combat.

I reviewed it here if you'd like to know more before purchasing.

Gone Home came out yesterday and is similar in the sense that there is no combat and it seems to mostly be about exploration. I don't have it yet to talk about it in more depth. Here's a 5 star review from giant bomb.
posted by TimeDoctor at 12:26 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you liked "Zork Nemesis" you would probably like "Zork: Grand Inquisitor".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:26 PM on August 16, 2013

I haven't played it yet myself, but from everything I've heard, Gone Home is incredibly totally up your alley.

Also, Kentucky Route Zero, of which Act II (of V) just came out (don't worry, you just pay one price, then get each act as it's released.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:28 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

If a Zen Buddhist monk made a video game, it would be Flower.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:29 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fez. I loved its sense of exploration and the puzzles were definitely hard but very, very satisfying to solve.

Jonathan Blow's upcoming game, The Witness, looks like its shaping up to be a modern take on Myst.
posted by zsazsa at 12:31 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

We have extremely similar game tastes.

Try Kentucky Route Zero. It freaked me out but it was also gorgeous and didn't actually have any violence - if I'd had company while playing it it would have been perfect.

I also honestly love the Lego games, which might seem silly but they're extremely well made and paced and detailed, with lots to explore and a great ratio of reward to effort.

Make sure you can get your hands on a PS3 to play Journey, it's unmissable.

Botanicula is gorgeous but short, the company that made it, Amanita Design, has a few other games that I didn't enjoy quite as much, but everything they make is worth your time. (They also made Machinarium.)

Civilization V definitely counts in the "pretty" category, if you like maps, and although it's not the same as a first person exploration game there is that sense of exploration and discovery for every new map. With the new expansion you can also play it almost entirely nonviolently more easily that you could before.

Try Proteus, although whether or not it's a game is debatable.

Oldies but goodies for xbox 360: Viva Pinata & its sequel (there's never been anything like it again), the console-release title Kameo (hits all the classic "videogame! fantasy adventure!" notes but is playable for people such as me who suck at "games"), Fable II and Fable III, which have a lot of fighting but are surprisingly easy to power through to get to, imo, the meat of the games which is all of the exploration and atmosphere.
posted by Mizu at 12:32 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Telltale Games are producing the adventure games of note now. Levels of violence/goriness vary, but check out what they have to offer.
posted by griphus at 12:32 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I should note, their ouvre is really uneven, so make sure to read reviews first.
posted by griphus at 12:33 PM on August 16, 2013

I expect you would like Kairo.
posted by wrok at 12:33 PM on August 16, 2013

And if you like retro gaming, I am a huge fan of The Legend of Zelda (needs NES emulator and Zelda ROM, both of which are available for a free download). You kill little non-human critters as you go (very non-violent, like a Mario game) but the entire game is a puzzle, essentially.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:35 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Machinarium! Nice music, art, and puzzles.
posted by too bad you're not me at 12:35 PM on August 16, 2013

Another vote for the Fable series. The combat is easy and bloodless, resulting in tiny globes of light that become XP. They are both hacky in their own way, but I can't handle the usual hyperviolent games, so they fit the bill and have replay value. Short puzzles, pretty scenery, some fun humor.
posted by mochapickle at 12:37 PM on August 16, 2013

I have a game on my iPhone (so maybe available for iPad?) called Zen Bound. It's a lovely 3D puzzle game.
posted by jph at 12:38 PM on August 16, 2013

Zen Bound is also available on Steam for PC, although the gameplay is slightly adjusted for non touchscreen. There's a lot of lovely puzzle and exploration games that are hidden amongst the "Casual" section of the Steam library. If you load them up onto your wishlist, Steam will send you an email if anything on your wishlist goes on sale. And often they'll be on sale for something like a dollar.
posted by Mizu at 12:42 PM on August 16, 2013

I have a lot of the same gaming issues and loved Viva Pinata. It's available for Xbox and has been around a few years so it's very affordable. Bright, colorful and really delightful.
posted by BrianJ at 12:49 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You REALLY MUST play The Room on the iPad. Man, I'm so jealous that you're going to get to play it for the first time. It is an amazing, beautiful puzzle game that you are going to love. Hooray video games!
posted by sevensnowflakes at 1:05 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

I really enjoyed Syberia and Syberia II, available for the PC and XBOX. 3rd person puzzle/adventure game. No real time constraints, more like a walk-through story with puzzles. It's about a young lawyer who is supposed to negotiate the sale of an automaton factory, and ends up on a quest to find the heir to the family business. Good story, good atmosphere. Maybe a bit simple for you if you are a MYST player. Probably a bit dated now, but that means it's cheap!
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:18 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

The old LucasArts/Tim Schafer games: Escape From Monkey Island -- LOVE. Grim Fandango -- YES! Psychonauts -- ADORABLE!

Yes, I last played video games ten years ago.
posted by Madamina at 1:21 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might find Shrug Worlds, a set of games and animation revolving around a common setting, to be interesting. As of now, there's just a little minigame made with Nifflas available, but the art style and animation are exceptionally beautiful.

Speaking of Nifflas, Knytt Stories was very good and soothing; Knytt Underground also looked good if a little incongruent. The latter's (very good!) soundtrack is available for free here.

The abovementioned Machinarium is lovely. Tale of Tales' work is highly environmental and explorey--I'd recommend The Path.

Yume Nikki is easily one of my very favorite games. The entire game is nothing but exploration set in some highly creative, surreal, creepy environments. It's difficult to describe, but the full effect is beautiful, sad and haunting. LSD has a similar premise (exploring dreams) but it's a very different (and still interesting!) experience. Anodyne has the same kind of atmosphere as Yume Nikki, but does feature minimal 16-bit violence. The writing in particular is good; charming and rather dark.

Dreamfall is one of my favorite exploration heavy games; it's a near perfect synthesis of beautifully fascinating locales, interesting and complex characters and a plot that's actually a bit clever.

To get really obscure, Nanatsu Kaze no Shima Monogatari and any of Lovedelic's games are all about exploring beautifully realized fictional worlds.

I haven't played To the Moon yet, but it's worth noting as well. It does have one of the most emotional premises for a videogame. Fragile (Warnings: TVTropes, spoilers), too, which is probably the most emotionally affecting game I've played, is primarily all about sifting through the ruins of a dead civilization, reliving fragments of memories belonging to the people who lived there as humanity is quietly going extinct. Fragile is one of the only games I'd call "literary;" it does have minimal Zelda-like violence.

This is more of a long shot, but you might enjoy Silent Hill 2. It does feature some violence and upsetting imagery, but it's very flexible; you can tweak it for minimal combat and emphasize puzzles or exploration/story. I always left combat on the easiest setting so that the experience was mainly one of wandering through misty, surreal dreamscapes.

(These are totally my favorite kinds of games.)
posted by byanyothername at 1:26 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by w0mbat at 1:37 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

Has anyone mentioned Portal yet? Because you should totally play Portal and Portal 2 on your PC. Also, Waking Mars on the iPad seems up your alley.
posted by gnutron at 1:38 PM on August 16, 2013

PORTAL. Seriously.
posted by cnc at 1:47 PM on August 16, 2013

Portal is great but it totally does involve violence and require good reactions/completing certain tasks quickly so may not be suitable.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:55 PM on August 16, 2013

Simcity -- 2000, 3000, or 4. Pick your poison.

Master of Magic -- my sons helped me learn to play it "like simcity" and emphasize the exploring and civilizatiin building and largely ignore the other wizards and de-emphasize combat.
posted by Michele in California at 2:18 PM on August 16, 2013

Portal and Portal 2 are fantastic. It does require a few quick but predictable actions, not reactions as much. It's a physics puzzle game, and occasionally you'll have to do things while flying through the air.

How about Kerbal Space Program? There's a free demo on Steam and the linked site. It's still in development, and so there's no real game there as much as the most fantastic sandbox in the universe. Simply enough, you build a space program. Unlimited budget, and don't sweat the astronauts or their life support. (They live forever, but they can be killed by accidents, and there will be accidents.) It has time-warping but at 1x speed, fast reactions won't save you from your imminent firey doooooom.

Here's a trailer (YT, 4 minutes, max out the quality) that makes me want to go to, "Duna."
posted by Sunburnt at 2:32 PM on August 16, 2013

I'm sad that you don't have a PS3 because all the That Game Company games, but especially Journey would suit you perfectly. Maybe rent or borrow a PS3 so you can play Journey, its only a few hours long, took me maybe 4 hours, other do it in 2 but I like to explore.
posted by Joh at 2:38 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I found Portal to be insufferably annoying and am constantly amazed that people will suggest it for nearly any set of game rec criteria. By all means give it a try if you check it out and seems like something you'd enjoy, but it's definitely not for everybody, despite it being labeled as such.

XBLA suggestion: Stacking, which is cute and fun and quite unlike most other things.
posted by Mizu at 2:41 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Okay, I've got my Steam inventory open:
Machinarium (seconded from above)- beautiful and challenging

Kentucky Route Zero (also above)- barely played it, but it looked fun.

Quantum Conundrum (requires some quick movements, but like Portal, it's predicted stuff, not reactive-- not sure if that makes a difference, here). It's another first-person puzzle game and while one can suffer death by dropping something heavy on yourself, or falling into pits, you never encounter another living or animate thing that you can do any harm to. Again, not sure if that makes a difference on the violence angle. There's no death animation; you just restart after getting a funny message.

Q.U.B.E. Pure puzzle-- you're in a maze, and you've got a glove that activates items in the walls. I think I recall one puzzle that required timing. I enjoyed it for a few hours, but lost interest.

Spacechem: interesting puzzle game where you place icons and routes to form a kind of custom chemical manufacturing reactor. Good as a casual game or a deep game.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:56 PM on August 16, 2013

World Of Warcraft sounds ideal if you just want to wander around massive virtual worlds and explore. The bonus (or drawback) is that the world is filled with real people you can come across and interact with too, if you want. Exploring all of the regions of World of Warcraft would take a very long time and keep you busy. The game does include violence (you fight people) but it's not gory at all. It's generally not that scary either, though I'd recommend playing as a human because you'd probably like wandering around Stormwind City. No puzzles or cerebral stuff though...

Myst I believe has been re-released and updated for newer platforms. Could check that out.

But when people ask for game recommendations, no matter what, hands down, I always recommend Civilization IV. Greatest game ever. And that's both my personal opinion and the opinion of critics, awards, magazines, fans, etc. Great on its own, but expansion packs obviously make it even better.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:59 PM on August 16, 2013

The Sims, SimCity, other simulation games. You can even play Civilization IV without any violence if you go into the settings and turn off barbarians and set the other civilizations to never attack you first.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:38 PM on August 16, 2013

Euro Truck Simulator is only violent if you suck at driving. Just like real driving.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:53 PM on August 16, 2013

Nifflas has made a number of highly engrossing freeware exploration games with beautiful visuals and ambiance. Knytt is the most renowned and sounds literally exactly what you're looking for, I recommend you start there. It's short and pretty and just pure exploration of a strange new world.
posted by Quilford at 6:03 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Tiny Bang Story is a delight.
Seconding The Room.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:28 PM on August 16, 2013

posted by Tom-B at 6:34 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eufloria available for android, iPad, steam and PS3

It's not pretty but Adventures of Shuggy are cute and fun.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:23 PM on August 16, 2013

A wonderful PC based " Get into the zone " puzzle game I *adore* is called "Chime"

I really want a sequel, or just more levels. I can zone out and play it for hours at a time. Very straight forward, and the 6 tracks you play along with are quite nice.

Steam Link - Chime
posted by DigDoug at 8:16 PM on August 16, 2013

I've got similar tastes, and I found the Hack series really enjoyable. They're simple text games for the iPad (so no great visuals), but they've got compelling stories and fit the "figuring things out" category. I wish there were more of them!
posted by Sakura3210 at 8:22 PM on August 16, 2013

Another vote for Gone Home, which sounds like exactly what you're looking for.

Windosill (that really is how it's spelled) is a nonviolent, brain-tickling, surrealist delight.

Proteus is more like an interactive exploration than a game, but it's lovely.

Sword & Sworcery (again, really spelled like that) is a lovely, non-violent puzzle-solving adventure.

Braid is leisurely, brain-twisting, very smart, and non-violent beyond jumping on enemy's heads. There's a free demo if you'd like to try it.

On the Xbox, some great non-violent games are Every Extend Extra Extreme, Monkey Island, Sam & Max Save the World, The Longest Journey, ilomilo, Costume Quest, and one of my favorite XBLA games, Half-Minute Hero (I loved this one soooo much).

Also worth noting that many classics, like Myst, The Last Express, and The 7th Guest are availalbe through Steam or Good Old Games.

Good luck!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:46 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, this gives me a good list to work from. I started playing The Room last night on iPad, yay!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:45 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The old LucasArts/Tim Schafer games: Escape From Monkey Island -- LOVE.

EMI can be a bit of an acquired taste. If you haven't played any of the Monkey Island games, the remake of Monkey Island 2 has an option to play with 3D or 2D graphics, is funny, has a few tricky puzzles, no time-sensitive sequences IIRC and any violence is cartoonish.
posted by ersatz at 4:50 PM on August 19, 2013

Scribblenauts Unlimited might be up your alley. Light puzzle solving, charmingly rendered cartoon sandbox. The engagement comes from exploring the possibility space, rather than the physical space, of the game world.

You have a magic notebook, and anything you write in it plops into being beside you - anything from a set of several thousand concrete nouns, which is near enough to everything you might think of as makes little difference. You can hang any number of adjectives on a noun, so that in as much time as it takes to type you can produce an Angelic Fast Colossal Snail, and then ride it. (Just make sure not to get any salt on it!)
posted by Iridic at 12:55 PM on August 20, 2013

I echo the recommendation of Kairo. It's like someone made an atmospheric Myst-type game in the Quake 3 engine, leaving out all my least favorite parts of Myst games (lame writing and lore, annoying characters, puzzles that are too hard, clunky interface). It made me feel like I was exploring weird alien ruins in an Arthur C. Clarke novel.

It has a very minimalist, elegant design that creates surprisingly distinct and memorable places from very simple building blocks, environmental puzzles that don't require a bunch of note-taking or code-deciphering, and a very streamlined interface with no HUD, inventory, or even a "use" key.

Another game you might like is a short little freeware IGF winner: Paper Plane. You fly a paper airplane around a rural farm revealing and giving color to "childhood memories" as you successfully fly the plane along, around, and through various objects on the farm. It's a little bit like Flower, Okami, and/or De Blob.

The game is small, but it's quite a bit larger and deeper than I'd realized with many secrets to discover. The control of the plane is very satisfying as it glides along, getting an occasional boost when you reveal or color something on the farm. Combined with the painterly stylized graphics and a meditative flute & clarinet theme, I find it a gentle and beautiful experience. Even after completing the game, I keep coming back to it every once in a while to take another relaxing flight around the farmyard.

But you absolutely must play Paper Plane with your Xbox controller. It's designed to use just the analog triggers, and played that way, you have very fine control of the plane. I've played just about every kind of game with mouse and/or keyboard controls. This is one of the very few that really does need an analog controller.
posted by straight at 12:31 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you just like wandering around a gameworld looking at cool stuff, you might try playing Minecraft on peaceful mode. The random terrain / cavern generation system is pretty amazing all by itself, but if you really want to be blown away, log in to a big community server like the MeFightClub's Aporkalypse or Shamus Young's Twentymine. You could wander around those for months and not see everything.
posted by straight at 12:47 PM on August 21, 2013

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