Video games have never quite shaken an association with violence. While here at AskAboutGames we're driven to share the benefits of family-friendly gaming, it's hardly surprising that the medium can struggle to distance itself for the issue.
Most strikingly, many of the most prevalent or founding gaming genres allude to violence in their naming. There's shoot 'em-ups, beat 'em-ups and first-person shooters; each central to the popularity and evolution of games as a mass market media.
In reality though, there are many thousands of games without a bit of violence in them. And games journalist James Batchelor has made it his task to document, share and celebrate non-violent games though his Non-Violent Game of the Day project; often known as 'NVGOTD'.
It's a fairly self explanatory initiative. Batchelor finds and shares a non-violent game every day he can, predominantly through the NVGOTD blog, and its Twitter feed. It's worth noting now that a game without violence can still contain adult themes – and we'll return to that issue below – but NVGOTD offers a tremendous resource for parents looking for non-violent games for their families to enjoy.
"After the tragic Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, the media inevitably discovered the shooter had played violent video games, and pointed the finger of blame squarely at our industry," says Batchelor, who in his day job serves as UK editor at renowned video game industry website GamesIndustry.biz. "In response a bunch of gamers organised a ceasefire; a day where they would not play violent video games to prove that there's more to the hobby than just killing things. I wanted to take this one step further."
As such, Batchelor quickly set up a blog and began recommending different non-violent games. His definition of violence is quite clean cut. There's no shooters and fighting, of course. But he also counts Mario jumping on an enemy to dispatch it as a violence. Hunting animals in a field sports game? That's enough violence to mean such titles wouldn't qualify. There's certainly games that test the definition of what can be considered violent – but in being strict NVGOTD offers a wide audience a reliable means to discover the best of the myriad games that don't include such aggression.
"Ideally, I'd like this to reach parents and non-gamers so they can see just how broad the range of games available is," he says.
Batchelor confesses that in the five years the blog has been running, he's not quite hit a game 'every day'; but he is building an incredible resource, with quite the master list behind the scenes.
"There are currently 2,598 titles for me to work through - and those are just the ones I've found over the past few years. If I finally manage to do update the blog on a daily basis, that's enough games to last until August 2025, and more are being announced all the time."
But what of that point on variety? Does turning attention away from guns and fists really leave such a diversity of game types, topics and styles?
"What's most impressed me about the variety of non-violent games is not necessarily the range of genres, but the breadth of subject matter," Batchelor offers. "Once you free players from the task of simply killing things to level-up to get better at killing things, video games can truly take on new meaning.
"There are games that explore pivotal aspects of the human experience such as love, loss and death, or topical issues like the plight of Syrian refugees or climate change. There are titles that take you to incredibly imaginative and unique worlds, landscapes you might not appreciate if you're traversing them while under fire. There are games that test strategic skills and lateral thinking, rather than dexterity and reflexes – solving a mystery or completing a puzzle can be just as satisfying as beating a boss. There's even a game where you play a slice of bread whose sole purpose in life is to become a piece of toast."
Batchelor endeavours to keep things varied; it would be a little too easy, after all, to find a puzzle game or sports release for each post. But even in 'conventionally non-violent genres', he's been impressed by what he's uncovered.
"There are new takes of decades-old mechanics and gameplay styles, and a multitude of ways developers can tackle the same subject," Batchelor enthuses. "Let's take football, for example: there are the usual football games like FIFA and PES, but then there are simplified versions like Beyond The Kickmen or Tiny Striker, plus comprehensive simulators like Football Manager and even an XCOM-like turn-based strategy game in Football, Tactics and Glory."
So if you are looking for diverse, distinct and even thought-provoking games for your family, you'd do well to check in with NVGOTD frequently. Of course, there is the aforementioned issue than non-violent games can still be mature. Over time, NVGOTD has featured a very small number of games that explore complex themes, like the iconic That Dragon, Cancer, about a family losing their child to the illness. Early on Batchelor also featured the odd game with scary moments; but soon moved away from those after readers found their inclusion too contentious. Occasionally a text-based game like courtroom simulator Phoenix Wright might include a reference to violence in text.
As such, it should be emphasised that a tiny minority of games in the NVGOTD list are not suitable for youngsters. But that point lets AskAboutGames revisit one of its key pieces for advice for parents and guardians with regard to appropriate gaming in the family. Research a game before sharing it with your children; that lets you be confident in the creation you are letting them enjoy. And a resource like NVGOTD is a perfect place to do that research. It doesn't endeavour to provide a list for children; instead NVGOTD is a brilliant resource for those that love games, and a perfect starting point for parents looking to see their children to do more than virtually shoot and punch.
And it just happens that NVGOTD's latest recommendation is one of AskAboutGames' favourite treasures: Hidden Folks, which offers a cheerful, artful and charming spin on the Where's Wally format.