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Invulnerable Civilians
Shoot everything. If it blows up, it was bad.
"Lessons learned from video games" t-shirt

Most video games take place in a No Man's Land, with monsters aplenty and not a friendly face or Innocent Bystander in sight. When they do show up, they live in houses or towns, far away from the monsters.

But sometimes these friendly faces show up where the monsters also live. Sometimes they don't, but follow you there. But the funny thing is, the monsters often just seem to ignore them. They only care about hurting you. Even attacks that catch the friendly characters in their wake don't seem to hurt them at all. Why is that?

Why, because these are Invulnerable Civilians.

A number of games have these. It's often a compromise between allowing more friendly characters to wander around the world to make it feel alive and populated, while at the same time avoiding violence that might upset Moral Guardians or come across as inappropriate. Obviously, violent games tend not to do this, allowing civilians to be killed if they are not protected. Most games avoid the issue by not allowing friendly characters and enemies to coexist in the same location.

Another reason this trope occurs is when a game is characterized by sneaking around enemies, while escorting civilians. Human players get frustrated when they have honed sneaking skills that are worthless with bad AI sneaking.

It's generally the norm for players to not be able to hurt civilians, of course (though some games allow the player to commit such atrocities). This refers mainly to when enemies ignore or cannot hurt them.

Sometimes, the game is generous enough to treat you as a Civilian extending to you these same privileges, at least until you get your gun. For examples where this is the case, see Non-Combatant Immunity.

See Also Hide Your Children. Contrast with the Lord British Postulate, where NPCs can't be killed by normal means, but can still be offed using some rather..."creative" methods. The opposite of this is Vulnerable Civilians. Please put your aversions there.

Examples

  • In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Dampe the gravekeeper wanders around the graveyard at night. As you pull gravestones and ghosts come out of some of them, the ghosts attack you, but kindly ignore Dampe, who in turn ignores them. Always wondered why the hordes of skeleton monsters wandering around Hyrule field at night didn't march into Lon Lon Ranch and go on a stabbing rampage. Its door was always open.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Tingle, the map selling fake fairy, can be found deep in the well-defended Clock town, on the peaceful road to Milk Ranch and...in the horrible, death-shrouded, fairy-frightening, blood-streaked, zombie-filled canyon/death temple found later in the game. Sure, he has unlimited balloons but there are heat-seeking flaming bats and death-birds everywhere.
      • However, Dampe is actually frightened of ghosts in MM, even when there aren't any around. (Yet he has a graveyard in his basement and a giant undead skeleton right next to his house for some reason anyway.)
    • Partially averted in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, in which Makar and Medli, two of your friendly companions that follow you through dungeons, are not ignored by the monsters and can be captured by Floor Masters.
  • In Guild Wars, a young girl you meet in an early area playfully follows you around. Enemies ignore her and only try to hurt you. This is more a case of Infant Immortality, since most other civilians can be killed if you lure monsters close to them. And when the same character shows up as a teenager in Eye of the North, she is most certainly not invulnerable (though she's not a civilian anymore either).
  • Comedic example: In Crazy Taxi, pedestrians jump out of the way of your taxi when you drive towards them. It's impossible to hit the pedestrians, even if you realistically should be able to. The only exception is that it is sometimes possible to reverse and turn into a passenger that you've just dropped off, but the game doesn't register the collision (the person's body passes right through the car).
    • The same in The Simpsons: Hit & Run.
    • The Simpsons: Road Rage, however, subverts it. You can run over both the pedestrian you've dropped off and other pedestrians waiting for a taxi on the road. However, other than complaining at you and being dragged off like every other object you can collide and drag with you, the pedestrians aren't any worse for wear afterwards.
    • Same for the earlier Driver games.
    • The pedestrians in Midtown Madness also have incredible dodging skills, though in the first game, you could turn the weather to snowy and drive down the sidewalks of Lakeshore Drive to force them to dive into Lake Michigan. They would welcome death after that.
  • Non-violent partial subversion: In Super Mario Sunshine, the Piantas will sink in the paint/mud/whatever-that-stuff-is if it gets on them, and thank you for rescuing them if you spray it away. They are technically not harmed by enemies, but they can't swim in the paint.
  • In the EA developed Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, you can spot tiny little pedestrians running around in the city campaign missions, they are unaffected by the hordes of tanks driving over them.
  • Used and subverted in City of Heroes. Civilians will often find themselves struggling over purses or ancient artifacts, but most of the time, they'll walk through groups of evil body-possessing mages without a problem.
    • Also in the villain-side Mayhem missions. These are the only times they are attackable by players, just like enemies and scenery. However, the same attack that puts a dent in a SWAT officer's armor or destroys a car does absolutely nothing to a citizen.
  • The civilians evacuating the planet in the second campaign map in Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War are completely ignored by the attacking Orks.
    • In the Orks' defense, killing fleeing civilians it a lot less fun than killing Space Marines.
  • Final Fantasy XI has a few areas with NPCs in dangerous areas. While most of them are in areas that don't have monsters spawn there, if you run a mob over there and manage to lose aggro, do they attack the NPCs? Nope. The only time the mobs seem to notice the NPCs is when you are supposed to escort them somewhere for a quest. In fact, during the early years of the game, there were almost no player-race enemies whatsoever. In fact, the only player-race enemy you fought at that time transformed into a monster.
  • While this trope technically does not refer to your inability to hurt civilians, there is an interesting note for Harvest Moon. In HM, if the player were to accidentally strike (or all-out attack) a livestock animal with a farming tool, they will lose a "heart" of affection, and may become sick. It would have been easy to cost the player a similar heart of affection if they strike a civilian, but this does not happen!
    • Possibly to avoid annoying the player, as the player will be frequently giving items to Non Player Characters and it's all too easy to forget to change the held item and instead swing a hoe at them.
  • Not a game, but the concept is played with in the webcomic Kid Radd. "NPC Invulnerability" possessed by former NPC's makes them useful in dangerous situations, as they don't possess the ability to be hurt. Characters that have both NPC Invulnerability and offensive skills are quite rightly considered some of the most frightening things in existence.
  • Neverwinter Nights features one of the most frustrating applications of this trope. Some Invulnerable Civilians will ignore your attacks, but God help the adventurer who takes a swing at an NPC only to discover that a.) he's invincible and b.) he's pissed off.
  • Annoyingly averted in Star Trek Online. While players can't target NPCs, and enemies will rarely attack them directly, they can take friendly fire (especially in the form of AoE attacks) and die. This is especially irritating with plot-critical NPCs, who MUST be unarmed. Whereas in Cryptic's missions, plot critical NPCs are often invulnerable, in the UGC (User created) missions, they can't be made invulnerable. If the plot for your UGC mission requires combat in an area populated by civilians, there's a pretty good chance that an unskilled player can render the mission unwinnable by getting important NPCs killed in their crossfire.
  • Justified with Namingway in Final Fantasy IV's DS remake: he has the ability to always appear in whatever location the story mandates your party to visit next, complain about his current situation, find a new calling, change his name to <Insertcurrentsituationhere> way and ask Cecil to help him out in some way and possibly reward him somehow, in no particular order. Said locations are invariably filled with lots of dangerous monsters, and the one time you actually need to fight him a good way into the game, he only has a measly 32 HP. So how does he survive? Simple: after you complete his subplot and find him in one of the randomly chosen locations afterwards, he gives you his good luck charm that he's apparently carried with him the entire time: a Safe Travel augment, which eliminates all random encounters. The game doesn't bother to elaborate if the very first monsters he runs into afterwards kill him brutally or if he barely manages to escape to a nearby town, realizes the danger he's been in the entire time and spends the rest of his life sobbing in the corner of a nearby inn.
    • He's still alive and well in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years and has settled with setting up challenge dungeons in each character tale, which might or might not mean he's learned his lesson. There's another member of his species that pops up during various dungeons to sell you items which might or might not be him, though.
  • The webcomic RPG World lampshades this trope (just like it does for every single other video game trope in existence), in this comic.
  • In Might & Magic VI, if you lured monsters into town, they'd continue attacking you, but would completely ignore the townspeople walking around (funnily enough, the townspeople would be happy to attack you if you start killing them).
    • This was corrected in Might & Magic VII, where townspeople and monsters would fight each other if they ever crossed paths (all townspeople were randomly generated; all plot important NPCs were unkillable signpost conversations safely tucked away indoors).
    • There is one exception to this in the first play area, where a semi-plot-important NPC offers the players a wand of fireball in return for a later 'favour'. Since the character in question carries the wand on him, enterprising players who know how M&M aggro works quickly learn that no favour is incurred if they just so happen to loot the wand from his corpse after he was tragically killed by a completely random and not-at-all player-led monster incursion focused on his location.
  • Certain areas in World of Warcraft have wandering predators and wandering herbivores passing right by one another...but so help you if YOU should happen to walk near either of them.
    • That specific case (herbivores and carnivores walking right by each other) was actually addressed in the games latest expansion pack, where in some cases you have predators ignore you to go eat something that they actually hunt (wolves on some sort of moose like animal), though they will gladly start attacking you as soon as they are done 'eating'.
    • The game also has several examples of merchants who are somewhat allied with enemy forces, but you can still purchase items from. They are usually marked as traitorous, or just willing to accept anyone's coin. And Vendor Trash.
  • In Global Defence Force (Chikyuu Boueigun 2) there are crowds of civilians running away from the alien enemies on many levels. Even if the player is fully kitted out with a superweapon capable of killing a gigantic Godzilla-alike lizard in one hit, shooting civilians will make them fly through the air, lie on the ground for a moment, then simply pick themselves up and start running again. Likewise if they are stepped on by the aforementioned lizard. If you shoot a single civilian with a continuous-fire weapon for long enough, though, they will vanish into thin air, but this seems to be a bug rather than 'death'.
  • Used as a plot point in Silent Hill 2, in which James (the protagonist and player character) wonders how Maria, an unarmed woman, and Laura, a child, could have survived for so long in a town filled with murderous monsters. Turns out that the monsters and even Maria herself are delusions created by poor James as he goes completely insane. Note that Laura, however, is real.
  • The Demon Scrolls in Ōkami will happily float right past any NPCs in the area, but if you get anywhere near them, they actually chase you out of Suicidal Overconfidence.
  • Played straight in Lagoon for the SNES, where the first major thing you do is explore a dungeon and do an Escort Mission with a little boy. He can't be hurt at all, but goes at quite a slow pace...
  • Scarface: The World is Yours. The main character, Tony Montana, will refuse to fire his gun at innocents. However, running people over is easily possible. Explosions? The pedestrians are just rattled Even if you play with the 'murder spree possible' sub-characters some essential civilians, like the bank tellers, are still impossible to kill. Explosions? Tear pedestrians to shreds.
  • Averted in a somewhat bad way in Fallout 3, where monsters would randomly wander into town and slaughter the inhabitants (except for the children). Fallout: New Vegas fixes this a bit by making sure monster spawn points aren't placed so damn close to town, although you can still aggro monsters and lure them into town.
  • Mercilessly averted in Fire Emblem games once green "Other" units were introduced. While you couldn't kill them yourself, bad guys would regularly take them hostage and either leave them to be slaughtered by something else or do the killing themselves.
    • Averted even harder in Path of Radiance where in one map a bunch of mercenaries take a bunch of innocent priests in a church hostage, and said priests are actually labeled as enemies. There are also bishops that will attack you and heal their captors, but you are reminded before the battle starts that they are only doing so against their will. The only way to win the map without slaughtering any priests is to shove them out of the way with your foot units, while avoiding the use of ranged weapons against the bishops. Keeping all of the priests and bishops alive scores you a nice amount of extra experience and the best healing staff in the game.
  • In Dark Souls, monsters will completely ignore the few NPCs scattered around the game world. This is a good thing, as several NPCs are found in the middle of major danger zones will monsters crossing their path regularly while trying to get to you. However, monster attacks will still damage friendly NPCs, so it's possible for them to die if you get into a fight near them and they get hit by, say, a few stray thrown boulders.
  • Exaggerated and lampshaded in zOMG! when a lost little girl is found on the cliffs by the Otami Ruins, unharmed by all the particularly nasty Animated that live there.

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