Video games have come a long way from the days of just shooting/hitting things until they die or you run out of levels, with more agency put on you to either abide by a strict set of rules, or try and break them. None are more widespread amongst the heroes of the land than the ancient commandment, "Thou shalt not kill".
It's generally a rule superheroes abide by, including a friendly neighbourhood gymnast and a brooding billionaire vigilante, but it isn't strictly tied to them. Sometimes an undercover cop wavers on that thin blue line, or a well-meaning prince under orders from his father.
Yet, as games have developed from straight forward "scores for kills" to more complex affairs, sometimes the lines blur on what can and can't be done, or what the hero should abide by. Sometimes a character is forced to go against their "one rule", whether through script or the player deciding to push that boundary to see what they can achieve.
Whatever the reason that drives them, it's hard to ignore that some saintly heroes have straight-up killed people.
10. Batman - Batman: Arkham Knight
Batman's one rule is that he doesn't kill people. A steadfast mantra that stops him becoming just as bad as those he captures, it's the reason Joker never aims to kill him, as he brings order the Joker's chaotic nature. As both player character and hero, there are rules in place to strictly stop you from ending someone's life. Sometimes the odd goon will fall over a railing, but that's not intentional.
However, when the Batmobile gets introduced, all that regard for life goes out the window.
Sure, Rocksteady coded it to shock people that get too close, or fire non-lethal rounds to knock people out (with the latter being the same rounds that tear mechs to shreds), but regardless, we've all ploughed right through squads of enemies, and they clearly didn't ALL get out the way.
To suggest The Dark Knight has his mindfulness about him at all times is also absurd, especially when chasing down Firefly on his pyromaniac rampage. How is Batman going to tell the difference being a speed bump and an unconscious body when he's sliding around corners?
"Because he's Batman" doesn't bring people back from the dead.
Questionably sharp Batarangs is one thing, but a fully equipped mobile tank is something else.
9. Lara Croft - Tomb Raider (2013)
Slightly contentious one, this, as Lara Croft was killing everything that looked at her funny from the very first iteration of the long-running series.
It's in the 2013 reboot however, that we see the more sympathetic origins of the Croft heiress and her roots in exploring.
Fuelled by ambition to find the kingdom of Yamatai, a terrible storm shipwrecks them. As they're hunted by the inhabitants of the land, Lara gets put in a precarious situation and is forced to kill someone for the first time in self-defence.
It's then that the drive for Lara becomes more than just surviving the wilderness, as the player is essentially forced to put Lara in a "kill or be killed" scenario more times than we'd like to imagine. Unlocking the ability to kill with your pickaxe or in a variety of more gory ways, it forces the disconnect from Lara the naive explorer, to Lara the unscrupulous murderer.
Longtime fans knew Lara was a killer, but the tonal shift changes the nature of the game somewhat, whereas by the third in the reboot series, all semblance of self-defence is lost, sealing Lara's transition.
8. Delsin Rowe - Infamous: Second Son
Delsin Rowe has the unfortunate fate of being in the wrong place at the right time, yet conveniently suited for the job. Delsin is not only a Conduit, which in the world of Infamous is someone with powers, but he has the ability to absorb the powers from said Conduits.
This leads him on a path of revenge to undo the damage wrought on his hometown, but it doesn't mean you have to slaughter everyone in your path. His attacks are primarily knocking enemies out; on occasion knocking a support tower down on/around them. There's no blood, he's not blowing people's heads off or ripping limbs off with his powers. He's merely incapacitating people.
At least, that seems to be the intent, anyway.
But put into practice, how's Delsin going to avoid the odd blast that knocks an enemy off of something high? Is dropping support towers with people on them going to guarantee their safety?
Sure, you can play as a malevolent force so this would all be moot. But if you're going for good-natured superhero, it seems to throw caution to the wind.
7. Sam Fisher - Splinter Cell: Conviction
Sam Fisher, the protagonist of the Splinter Cell series, isn't an inherently bad man. Sure, he works for a clandestine branch of the American government, sneaking about where he probably shouldn't be, but that doesn't make him a bad man. Killing isn't optional in the earlier titles, that's on the player.
But it seems that the agency for Sam's motivation and rules of engagement were changed in 2010's Conviction, as killing seemed to be a standard affair from the get go.
It took the choice out of player's hands, considering the series was renowned for that choice in stealth or murder for its first four main games. Such was the focus on the game's Mark and Execute function, that style of kill over stealth was a heavily touted feature.
There were even sections of the game that wouldn't let you progress until everyone had been killed, which was out of place for the series. Sam may not have a self-imposed "no kill" rule, usually by way of mission criteria instead, but it didn't matter in this iteration.
6. Wei Shen - Sleeping Dogs
It must be hard, being an undercover cop. Having to give up the life you knew to infiltrate a criminal organisation, walking that fine line between doing the right thing and upholding the law, or throwing that to one side to get the job done.
That's the dilemma that our hero cop, Wei Shen, has to face when he infiltrates the Triads in 2012's surprise hit, Sleeping Dogs. Sure, as part of police training he would have to entertain the notion of defending himself and taking someone down if necessary, but it wouldn't be expected all the time.
Yet Square Enix weren't following the strictest ruleset when it came to how Wei could be played, meaning the player was able to take out their creativity on the unsuspecting public. Unlike the Assassins Creed series, where killing innocents would be punished, Sleeping Dogs following the Grand Theft Auto model of sending police at you, whom could also be killed.
It gave Wei almost no moral boundary, that goes against his very purpose of upholding the law in the first place.
5. The Prince - Katamari Demacy
"Surely not", you might be thinking. Not the cute, weirdly shaped Prince of All Cosmos, of all people. Surely he wouldn't kill a soul in his quest to aide his father, right?
Well, think about it: the Prince rolls everything up. Starting off small, with things like coasters and traffic cones, as his katamari grows he sets his sights on bigger objects.
It seems weird that in such a kid-friendly game that this would be an odd thing to notice, but it's behind the colours that we realise what a tiny little murderer the 5cm tall little prince is.
Of course, you could do everything in your power to avoid rolling people up. There are enough objects to feed the katamari and help it grow. The problem is, it grows regardless, as you're eventually rolling up towns and even continents.
And what happens to the finished katamari? Why, it becomes a star, naturally. A ball of molten plasma in the sky.
So for all of your attempts to save lives from a gigantic ball of fate, it makes no odds in the end.
4. Corvo Attano - Dishonored
Dishonored, on its release in 2012, was one of the rare examples of a game offering you freedom of choice to play how you like, and actually delivering on it. You could, if you fancied, tear through every stage, killing anyone that looks at you funny (which they will, as you're wearing a mask).
Or, you could finish the game without killing a single soul. At least, not directly.
But how does Corvo know that every single person he's subdued isn't going to die? If the player leaves someone unconscious on the road, what's to stop a plague rat having a nibble, or a whole swarm of them munching away? A guard hidden on a ledge could wake and fall.
Even his targets, that he's dispatched "non-lethally", what fate befalls them? We know Campbell becomes a plague bearer, which is as good as killing him. The Pendleton twins, or the kidnapped Boyle sister, what guarantees their safety?
Whilst Corvo aspires for "out of sight, out of mind", it seems that so does the factors of consequence for his victims.
3. Adam Jensen - Deus Ex Human Revolution/Mankind Divided
Whether you asked for it or not, when you're equipped with enough machinery to level buildings and fire ball bearings from under your coat, you have to be careful.
If you choose to play as a cyber sleuth, you can sneak by practically every potential encounter in the two most recent Deus Ex games. If push comes to shove though, you can employ a variety of long and short range, as well as melee, attacks to pacify your enemies non-lethally.
But Jensen is pooled into the same quandary as Corvo: if the player's actions leave people to an undetermined fate, what's to say that these two aren't indiscriminate killers?
It's not suggested that everyone taken out should be left in plain sight, or a safe position to recover from, but to knock someone out with those metal hands could do some lasting damage.
Thus it gives the player the choice to act how they see fit, that shapes whether Adam is a murderer or not. Is knocking someone out and hiding them in a vent an eventual premeditated murder...?
2. Link - Zelda: A Link To The Past
Depending on your stance, killing monsters doesn't technically count as breaking your "no killing" rule, right?
Except for when it isn't legions of doom, but guards manipulated against their own free will by the wizard Agahnim. Ordinary, good natured palace guards, under order of the king, twisted and corrupted by dark magics.
Whilst you may be nimble enough to evade them on the world map, there are some that require killing to progress. Now, if this were your first playthrough, you wouldn't think twice as you mow them down in the name of saving the day.
It's when you discover at the end that these were normal guards, that you notice the control has been taken from you to kill innocent folk in the name of progress. What makes it worse, as mentioned before, is that some need killing to proceed.
It makes you wonder if Link knew this all along, forcing your hand, or that the forced nature of progression was to elaborate the need to save the world at any cost.
Whatever the reason, Link's not saying.
1. Spider-Man - Marvel's Spider-man
Much like Batman, Spider-man upholds a strict moral code that never sees him kill anyone. He will also go out of his way to save villains that are in danger, as killing just isn't in the friendly neighbourhood Spider-man's nature.
Well, not directly, at least...
As we all know, Spidey's very conscientious in battle. Taking care not to critically injure anyone, just incapacitating them, without any [large amount] of blood on his conscious. Even enemies that are flung or accidentally fallen off of buildings get stuck to the side of them to avoid any terminal velocity-based fatalities.
But we never see them get them down afterwards, do we? Or chuck a quick phone call to the police to let them know there's a man stuck 200ft up to a wall. What happens when it gets cold at night, or the webbing wears off?
Doesn't seem like Spidey seems to care, as before long he's thwipping off to the next objective or crime scene. Friendly neighbourhood indirect manslaughter-er, potentially.