I love video games, but I never really got to play them when I was a kid. While my classmates spent their after-schools and summers building up the hand-eye coordination, small-scale planning, and other related skills video games can teach, I…didn’t. I did like, extra credit homework and stuff. It was terrible. (It was fine.)
Like anything that has ever been denied a child, playing video games became a far-off aspiration of mine. I thought games were the coolest thing in the world. I read about video game characters, their plots and relationships, and kept track of new releases for years before I finally purchased my first console in my 20s.
Imagine my delight in bringing a real-ass Playstation 4 back to my apartment, getting that buddy all set up, and booting up Uncharted for the first time, then proceeding to absolutely suck.
Just…just totally blowing it. Even on easy mode. I’m glad my roommate wasn’t home that night because it was a genuinely humiliating experience for me.
Part of the reason I sucked is because, as previously mentioned, I never built up the eye-to-hand-to-button mental pipeline that make video games easier to play. The other reason is that I hadn’t anticipated the effect playing a game that featured heavy gunfire would have on me.
A year before I bought my PS4, two men were shot within the span of two months outside my Brooklyn apartment. I witnessed the first shooting from my second-story window, having heard the pops and assumed someone was setting off fireworks a few days before the Fourth of July. Instead of seeing sparkles, I saw a man bleeding on the sidewalk.
When the police took my witness statement hours later, the fireworks mistake was the detail I found myself stuck on. I was able to describe the exact sound of the shots, two short cracks and four more in rapid succession — it’s a pattern I’ve never been able to get out of my head. “I thought they were fireworks.”
My second encounter with gunfire was, as I mentioned before, shortly after that. I was home alone at night when I heard the “fireworks” outside again, closer to the lobby of my building. I panicked and turned off every light in my apartment, then hid in the bathroom until the noise stopped and I heard sirens. When I left my apartment to sleep elsewhere, the police had already taken the body away but the blood was still dark outside my building’s front door.
This is about video games, though.
When I played Uncharted a year later and was put in control of a protagonist with a gun, the shooting mechanics and noise made my palms sweat and my heart rate soar. I couldn’t aim because I couldn’t concentrate; I couldn’t enjoy the story because my chest felt far too tight. The same thing has happened to me with every game I have tried to play that features guns — Tomb Raider, Mass Effect, and pretty much any first-person shooter.
There are probably worse, less rational reactions to hearing gunfire than experiencing panic symptoms, but as someone who loves video games my anxiety around gunfire has limited the kind of games I can play comfortably. As such, I’m always interested in games that feature other things I like, such as strong stories and characters, an action/adventure plot, third person camera angles, and well-rendered graphics but do not involve controlling or using guns.
Here are some of the games I’ve enjoyed the most, for anyone else who might be on the gun-shy side for any reason.
1. Batman: Arkham Asylum/City/Knight
It makes sense that one of my favorite video game series is about Batman. Despite what the DC Extended Universe movies may insist, Batman hates guns too. Arkham Knight was the first game I played all the way through on my PS4, and while the enemies in the game do use guns, there are simple disarms and an emphasis on stealth that make it easy to limit a player’s exposure to them in combat.
2. The Witcher III
I’m specifically putting III on here because, full disclosure, it’s the only Witcher game I’ve actually played. Western fantasy games are a particular favorite of mine because with rare exceptions, they often take place in worlds without guns. Swords? Sure. Arrows? Sure. Shrieking hellwraiths and half-melted swamp witches? Totally fine. Combat in this game was tricky for me (I still kind of suck, guns or no), but the challenge helped me get better and made me appreciate exploring its massive map that much more.
3. Assassin’s Creed Origins
I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise very much. I’m a history nerd and love being able to explore any rendering of the past, fictionalized or no. That said, quite a few of their games do feature protagonists with guns. I played through most of them anyway, since the gunfire is limited in nearly all of them, but Origins is truly gun free and also one of my favorites of the franchise. There is bow and arrow combat, which requires aiming mechanics, but I don’t mind sniping people with with a predator bow as long as it’s, you know, quiet.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
More fantasy! Breath of the Wild is a magnificent game that very much deserves every accolade thrown at it. The open world, combat, exploration, puzzle mechanics, characters, visual style…it’s all good. Groundbreaking even, in some areas. It also features bow combat, but it was also the first time I used controller aim in a game. No panic, no emotional response. Nothing. Felt good, man.
5. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
I enjoyed Shadow of Mordor. It reminded me a lot of Assassin’s Creed (if only because AC’s influence on modern RPGs is unavoidable) and the canon-lite approach to LOTR lore was interesting enough to feel like my character kind of mattered to the world without breaking my brain trying to find connections to Frodo and his pals. The nemesis system in this game turns the slaughter of potentially faceless orcs into a much more personal challenge, and it quite frankly rocks.
Yeah, yeah, everyone has played Skyrim. It’s a favorite for a reason. It’s the second-oldest game on this list and still totally slaps. The combat is on the simplistic side, but that’s great for people like me who are more invested in storytelling and roleplaying than they are in finessing murder strategies. The sound design in this game is also incredible — I’ll never forget the first time I heard a dragon screech while wandering the plains. My heart rate went up that time too, but for an entirely different reason.
7. Marvel’s Spider-Man
There are a lot of guns in Marvel’s Spider-Man. Most of the enemy groups Spidey encounters have at least one member packing heart and that’s not even counting the ambient gunfire of the police and the pesky rocket launchers that can easily wipe out half of his health in one shot. This is a newer game, however, and I’ve had more time to acclimate myself to enemies firing on my character. There are a number of unlockable skills that make dealing with gunfire not only easy, but kind of hilarious — one lets Spidey yank a gun out of an enemy’s hand and bonk them on the head with it. Another turns a perfectly dodged bullet into an awesome one-hit KO move for whoever fired it. I enjoyed playing Marvel’s Spider-Man not only because it’s incredible, but also because it turns an enemy’s guns into a potential advantage to my character, which isn’t something I see in games every day.
This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list of gun-free games, just the ones I’ve played and liked the most. There is absolutely nothing wrong with gun combat in games and it would be very far from my personal beliefs to say that gun combat is a net good or bad in the world of gaming. It’s simply a fact of the genre, and it’s a fact that my experience has taught me I would rather avoid.
Plenty of games have guns and are great. Plenty of others are gun-free and also great. The wonderful thing about living in this golden age of console games is that there’s at least one video game out there that suits someone’s preferences almost perfectly, and I’ve been lucky to play multiple games that suit me and give me that excited rush I used to dream about when I was a kid. I’m looking forward to discovering more as time goes on. After all, I suck at games a lot less now.