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Vulnerable Civilians
Some video games have Invulnerable Civilians, where not only can the player not harm innocents, but neither can enemies.

Others have Vulnerable Civilians. Some games, like the infamous Grand Theft Auto series, allow the player to go on a killing spree and cause all the chaos they want, but some put the NPCs directly in harm's way. These are Vulnerable Civilians, the people whose lives are at risk from the dangers of the game world itself.

If shooting Vulnerable Civilians comes with a penalty, particularly a health-based one, you have Hostage Spirit Link.

Examples:

  • In the original Half-Life, and its expansions, the player can kill just about everyone, including their fellow colleagues and security guards meant to help them. The only person that cannot be harmed is the mysterious and seemingly bulletproof G-Man.
  • In Boiling Point: Road to Hell, the player is free to engage in hostilities against everybody in Realia. This includes the civilian faction. They're not completely harmless, 'tho- cross a certain line, and old grannies will start peppering you with grenades, which they carry in their handbags. It's a tough country, after all.
  • Done in very strange ways in X-COM: Enemy Unknown: During terror missions, the aliens would often ignore your soldiers for the chance to kill a civilian, if they had to choose. And Fridge Logic rears its ugly head when you realize the aliens had hours to themselves from when you were alerted of the mission to your actual arrival on scene, and apparently waited for you to show up before starting the civvie killing. Psychological warfare?
  • Done in Final Fantasy XII when you're in areas where you can actually fight monsters. The NPCs (who generally tend to be adventurers themselves) can and do get into fights with monsters all on their own, while monsters will even pick fights with each other as predatory animals are wont to do in Real Life.
  • Used in The Saboteur. The Nazi soldiers occupying Paris gladly abuse and execute civilians, often just for the hell of it. It gets sadistic (as expected of the Nazis) when German soldiers pass civilians on the street and proceed punch them and beat them up for no real reason other than that they can. And if the civilians fight back, or are simply witnesses to the abuse, they get shot down as they attempt to run away, or get arrested and sent to some unspeakable fate.
  • Used in Prototype. The zombies of the zombie apocalypse will happily chow down on the hapless citizens of New York City. And you can kill them yourself, if you want to.
  • In Crackdown, jaywalking civilians can repeatedly get up after being struck by a car at high speed, provided that the driver is another civilian. However, they're very vulnerable in other ways - freaks specifically target civilians, for example.
  • Mostly played straight in Deus Ex — the New York, Paris and Hong Kong levels are all full of NPCs, and just about all of them can be hurt or killed... except for some plot-dependent characters such as Paul Denton and Walton Simons, who are invulnerable until the game decides otherwise.
  • The invulnerabillity of the Goldeneye 64 civilians depends on the difficulty levels. Turning them from meat shields into bullet sponges... which the military doesn't seem to care about either way. Of course, hiding behind them is fine... but rolling them over in a tank is not. Eventually.
  • Used in the Superman Returns games....in fact, it's rather the entire point. YOU are pretty much invulnerable (the worst anything can do is stun you), but instead the city has a life bar when it takes damage and/or citizens get hurt. If it gets emptied, then it's game over. Nice touch of realism, but sadly it pretty much turns the entire game into one long Escort Mission.
    • Averted with the kittens, which are unharmed by all of Superman's attacks.
  • Fallout 3 uses a system similar to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, where the smaller, open-area towns like Big Town, Canterbury Commons, Arefu, or Republic of Dave were occasionally subject to random monster attacks, which can result in the death of quest-related NPCs. In fact, monsters would sometimes spawn right inside the town itself. At higher levels, this would often involve Yao Guai or Deathclaws, resulting in the death of everyone inside the town. Additionally, there are a number of named NPCs, most notably the merchant caravans, that roam the wasteland and are likely to be eventually eaten by monsters. Especially the high-level monsters such as Albino Radscorpions from the Broken Steel DLC.
    • In Point Lookout, Madame Panada, one of the DLC's two merchants, has set up shop outdoors in the fairground ruins, leaving her a sitting duck for the hostile Tribals that spawn after you place the Cogwave Jammer. As with the caravan merchants, you can retrieve the key from her corpse to loot her inventory.
    • Most Fallout 3 NPCs central to morality-type quests cannot be killed, only knocked unconscious. For example, the NPC Victoria Watts will start following your character around when her morality-type quest is activated, meaning she can turn up almost anywhere in an invulnerable state (as I discovered when accidentally Mini-Nuking her up north near Raven Rock, assuming she was an attacker). These same NPCs often lose their invulnerability right after giving you the quest-specific message.
    • All of the child NPCs in Fallout 3 (those who aren't killed by scripted effects) are completely invulnerable.
    • In previous Fallout titles, any human can be killed: shopkeepers, random civilians, even children. Killing children makes everyone hate you and can even draw bounty hunters after you. Also, killing people in your hometown can trigger a Non-Standard Game Over. Unlike Fallout 3, however, towns were never subject to random monster attacks.
  • Fallout: New Vegas fixes the monster spawning locations so that monsters no longer randomly spawn right in the middle of settlements. It's still possible for monsters(such as the Deathclaws near Sloan or Cazadores near Jacobstown) to chase you into town and kill the residents, though. As with Fallout 3, travelling and outdoor merchants, such as the 188 Trading Post and Grub & Gulp Rest Stop, are easy prey for Legionary Assassins, raiders, and other baddies. Often, they will suicidally charge the enemy.
  • Played straight in Ultima: Martian Dreams, where roaming monsters would attack and kill members of the Martian expedition if you left the doors to their houses open after visiting them. This made the game unwinnable, so you needed to remember to always close doors behind you to keep your buddies safe.
  • Done in STALKER, where every character (including major characters) could be killed, and most human settlements were subject to random mutant or bandit attacks. The only two exceptions are Barkeep and Sidorovichnote , because they stay in bunkers where you can't draw weapons. Thus, it was entirely possible for quests to become unobtainable as major characters were killed in random shootouts.
  • Used in the Crusader games. Friendly fire is in fact quite possible if there are enough enemies, and since there are civilians present in many dangerous areas of the game...
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, monsters never invade walled towns, but monsters that travel along the main road will attack travelling NPCs on the road as well as smaller settlements and farmsteads, if they spot an NPC working on their farm. Because all NPCs in Oblivion (except for patrolling imperial guards) are unique individuals (many of whom give sidequests) rather than randomly spawned characters, each NPC killed by monsters is one less person in the game world, who will not be replaced, and if they were part of a sidequest, their deaths make that quest unfinishable.
  • Most of what was said about Oblivion above also applies to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, with the added fact that a dragon can strike almost anywhere outdoors, including towns, and if you don't take it down quick then an NPC or two will most likely get caught in the crossfire and die. Some plot-critical NPCs are invulnerable, but more often a family member, friend, or apprentice of the deceased will often take their place (if they were a shopkeeper or blacksmith or something), and those who knew them will now comment on what a tragic waste it was that their life was cut off.
  • In Command & Conquer, civilians (and their technician brethren) are very weak, they fire at their target for a few seconds then run around uncontrollably with their arms flailing for several more.
  • There are a few Guild Wars missions and quests where different types of civilian NPCs get attacked by monsters. They generally do very little damage and die quickly, with attack animations resembling punches and hits.
  • Starcraft has a number of "civilian" and "scientist" units in some of the missions that are considered non-neutral units. They cannot attack at all, and have somewhat lower hit points than terran infantry units.
  • In World of Warcraft, some mobs will attack critters (small creatures that won't battle and have very little HP like rabbits, etc). The game keeps most NPCs and mobs seperate by design (apart from the odd Escort Mission) though.
  • Scarface: The World is Yours is a mixed bag. Tony Montana won't shoot the innocent. His (playable) employees can murder whomever they wish to. With the exception of some plot relevant characters such as the bank teller.
  • The Fire Emblem series uses this from time to time. Most notably in the Jugdral games, which prominently featured a demonic cult that hunted down and sacrificed children. Interestingly, saving a civilian resulted in an automatic level-up in Genealogy of the Holy War.
  • PAYDAY: The Heist has civilians that run around in panic when a heist goes down. Players can scream at the civilians to get down and even tie them up to claim them as a hostage. Because firefights between the players and the cops can get heated, civilians that are running around could get shot by you, resulting in a longer wait when respawning and losing money at the end of the mission as a penalty. Naturally, the cops can shoot through civilians without hurting them.
  • In Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, non-player characters won't draw aggro from enemies, but enemy attacks can still hurt and kill them. Your attacks can also hurt and kill them. In most cases doing so will raise your Sin level (a bad thing unless you really enjoy being invaded).
  • Played with in The Matrix Path Of Neo during some escort missions. If you attack an npc they won't take damage, but if an enemy hurts them enough to kill them it's mission over.
  • This is true of Postal 2. A lot of NPCs will want to kill The Postal Dude, sure, but a lot of them will also readily attack each other—sometimes along ideological lines, sometimes just for the hell of it. You even get an achievement for seeing an NPC snap and start a fight unprovoked. Naturally, the rather dickish civilians of the hellhole known as Paradise, AZ are all completely vulnerable to your violence, but there's nothing to keep them from becoming threats to each other.

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