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Violence Is Not an Option

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"You cannot beat a river into submission. You have to surrender to its current..."
The Ancient One, Doctor Strange (2016)

There are a lot of problems a person can solve with violence: evil overlords, bullies, inconvenient walls, high prices at the supermarket...

Unfortunately, this is not one such problem. The Monster of the Week is just too strong to take on in open combat (or may even be outright immortal), punching out the schoolyard bully just makes the whole situation worse, and a Ballistic Discount is just way more trouble than it's worth. Alternatively, the character(s) may be burdened by a No-Harm Requirement and unable to use violence due to long-term consequences. Some people catch onto this immediately and seek alternate solutions, while others are slower on the uptake and try to punch their way through the situation first and have to backpedal afterwards. Regardless of how they figure this out, it's clear that no amount of direct physical force is going to solve the issue at hand.

In video games, particularly of the Action Game genre, this often takes the form of a Stealth-Based Mission, for the duration of which the players' combat options (weapons, powers, etc.) are either stripped away or rendered useless somehow, forcing them to evade the enemies instead. That said, mandatory stealth levels do not automatically fall under this trope, as some games let players dispense violence from hiding, anyway.

A situation like this can be a great way of showing off the Hidden Depths (or lack thereof) of a character that normally solves problems by punching them in the face, i.e. a Blood Knight or the like. Alternatively, it can be used to give the Non-Action Guy a chance to shine (and prove that Heart Is an Awesome Power). The Badass Pacifist especially excels in this sort of scenario, and such an incident may be what gives them their credentials in the first place.

Compare Actual Pacifist and Thou Shall Not Kill, for when the lack of violence is a moral choice as opposed to a practical one. Also compare Technical Pacifist, who manages without personally killing anyone. Contrast Violence is the Only Option, Violence Really Is the Answer, and Murder Is the Best Solution, for obvious reasons. See also Sheathe Your Sword, for when the mere act of not fighting is what brings the conflict to a close, and Torture Is Ineffective for when the "problem" at hand is gathering information.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • No Game No Life: In the alternate world of Disboard, an ancient war devastated the world so badly that the god which survived the war, Tet, declared that violence — especially violence with intent to kill — was now impossible and all disputes had to be settled through games. However, this only applies to the 16 races which are bound by Tet's Pledges, and also only applies if the person didn't wager their life or physical safety in the game. If they do and lose, they're screwed. Therefore, all of these races are terrified of being completely conquered by the others, as they fear this would reduce their status to those of animals that can be enslaved and slaughtered.
  • This is a recurring situation with the Ultra Guardian missions in the Sun and Moon series of Pokémon: The Series. Most of the Ultra Beasts are too powerful to be taken out by the heroes through battling, their attacks usually only causing a distraction at best, so more often methods resort to trickery or, in the cases of the less antagonistic ones, even appealing to the personalities of the beasts so they'll willingly be captured and sent back to their world.

    Comic Strips 
  • Foxtrot: One arc has Jason unable to get past a video-game boss called the Red Orb Guardian. His entirely un-nerdy sister Paige gets past it without trying, so she blackmails him for a while until she finally tells him the secret: don't attack him.
    Jason: He's the most lethal video game creature ever! He towers above you with fists like anvils! Skulls litter the ground at his feet! And you're not supposed to even try to take this guy on in a fight??... Wow, talk about counter-intuitive.
    Paige: Refresh my memory, you spend how many nanoseconds in the real world each day?

    Films — Animation 
  • Brave: Despite her status as an Action Girl, most of the threats that Merida encounters throughout the movie can't be solved through her archery or fighting skills:
    • Merida is a skilled archer and fighter, always hitting her target and capable of shooting straight even under stressful circumstances (like when ambushed by a bear). During the climax, she's able to block her father's sword with her own sword, and Fergus was trying to kill a bear with that strike, proving that she did inherit her father's strength. However, this is a Disney film. She's not allowed to skewer any opponent with her arrows a la The Lord of the Rings. Therefore, her main opponent is a magical bear that can No-Sell anything a normal human can throw at him, making her talents useless in that specific situation. Instead, she has to run away from the magical bear.
    • Archery is also not shown to be a viable option a la Loophole Abuse in the contest. Merida definitely won the contest, but it did nothing to help her situation. On the contrary, she made it worse. She has to placate the three chiefs and convince them to agree to something else in order to succeed.
    • Breaking her mother's curse is not as simple as killing the curse's caster. She has to reconcile with her mother to make that happen.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Days of Future Past, Logan has to remain calm because violence or sudden bouts of emotion would disrupt the Mental Time Travel that he's using, and thus remove him from the situation entirely without doing anything to fix it.
  • This occurs on both sides during the climax of Doctor Strange (2016): The titular hero has no chance against Dormammu, and so instead relies on an infinite loop of time to emerge triumphant. Dormammu, on the other hand, has no comprehension of time and learns quickly that just killing Strange over and over again still leaves him trapped, forcing him to bargain for his freedom.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The antagonist of "Rosa" is an escaped prisoner implanted with a device that prevents him from using violence. Unfortunately for the Doctor and friends, this doesn't deter him from non-violently disrupting every single event which led to Rosa Parks' historic arrest, forcing them to scramble in order to set history back on track.
  • Legion: In "Chapter 27", it turns out that the only way to prevent David Haller from becoming a supervillain is for Charles Xavier and Amahl Farouk to have never gone to war in the first place. Charles and Present Farouk (who undergoes a Heel–Face Turn) settle on a peace agreement.
    Charles: I'm saying that war is not the answer, it's the problem. David, we don't need this barbarism. I've made a deal with Farouk.
  • Played for Laughs in Raumschiff GameStar: When threatened by a space terrorist, The Captain of the (ostensibly) good guys prepares to answer with a volley from the ship's main gun, only to be informed that all weaponry is currently in maintenance and that he instead should seek a diplomatic solution.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu. Cthulhu Mythos deities (and some monsters) are so difficult to destroy with physical force that it's utterly futile to even try. The Investigators' best bet is to do as much research as possible to find out the deity or monster's hidden weakness (such as a specific spell or action) and try to use it against them.
    • Put this way: nothing an investigator can hold will so much as prick Cthulhu's skin. Dedicated anti-tank guns could theoretically slow him down but not kill him. A nuclear missile (which of course would be a little hard to come by in the modern day, nevermind the game's traditional setting of 1928) launched at Cthulhu's head would blow his head off... but he has Healing Factor that would repair all the damage, and plus, now he's radioactive. Cthugha (no relation) is effectively a sentient ball of intense flame - shooting him with soon-to-be molten blobs of metal kinda tickles but that's about it.
    • On the other hand, firearms do a bang-up job in dealing with human enemies and low-level "footsoldier" monsters like Deep Ones and Ghouls. Conflict is still ill-advised however as combat in the game is very deadly, and your investigators are no more resistant to gunfire than cultists or mooks; any investigator taking a shotgun blast or high-calibre rifle shot is certainly dead, a .45 pistol can nearly kill an unarmoured investigator in a single shot in the right circumstances (and many pistols can shoot three times in a turn), and even if the investigator survives the initial shot, they'll be gravely wounded and have to spend several weeks recovering in hospital before they are in any condition to be going anywhere.
    • Averted with the Pulp Cthulhu optional rules in 7th Edition, which takes a sharp bend away from Survival Horror and investigation, towards Weird Science and Two-Fisted Tales. Investigators are generally harder to kill and more adept at combat, and gain access to things like sci-fi gadgets and psionic powers. You can still lose your mind or be squashed by a Mythos creature though.

    Video Games 
  • In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, there is a quest where you have to get rid of explorers that are trespassing in elves' holy forest. You cannot attack them, because if you do, the spirits that live in that forest will promptly eradicate all aggressors. Subverted in that, while there is a peaceful solution, there's also nothing stopping you from provoking the explorers into attacking you, as long as you don't retaliate...
  • Divinity: Original Sin: The only major enemies in the Luculla Mines are the Death Knights, all of whom are mechanically invulnerable and thus invincible at that point in the plot. The only way to get through the level is by learning their patrol routes and evading them, or running away if they do spot you.
  • Mother: Every final boss fight plays out like this in the end; the player can't win no matter how much they try to hurt the boss, so an alternative method has to be used.
    • In EarthBound Beginnings, Giegue has an infinite amount of health, so just attacking him solves nothing. The player instead has to sing Maria's song to him in order to win.
    • In EarthBound (1994), Giygas has gone full Eldritch Abomination, and just doing damage to him won't kill him; the player instead has to use Paula's Prayer command, and this results in the use of The Power of Love to defeat him.
    • In Mother 3, the final boss fight is essentially Lucas and company getting their heads handed to them by the Masked Man. Lucas refuses to even fight, and everyone else goes down before they even have a chance to. Unlike the above examples, though, this one's just a waiting game, and the player merely has to survive long enough for the fight to reach its conclusion.
  • Downplayed in the Pacifist Ending of Undertale: The Final Boss is immune to physical attacks, so attempting to fight him the traditional way is never going to end well for the player. However, as this is a Pacifist Run, ending encounters without killing anyone isn't exactly a new concept.
    • The True Lab before it also contains monsters that cannot be harmed by physical attacks, so the only way to deal with them is through nonviolent means. This is actually an Enforced Trope; the True Lab can only be reached via total pacifism (and is the beginning of the Golden Ending branch of the game), and the monsters being unkillable prevents you from ending the Pacifist Run, whether by accident or on purpose.
  • The original Prince of Persia has this with the Shadow fight, as the only way to proceed is to Sheathe Your Sword and run into it, the Shadow following suit and reuniting with you.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has the Higher Vampire terrorizing Toussant being so insanely powerful that fighting it is considered suicide. It has super speed, super strength, intangibility, and more. Even Geralt considers it insane to fight such a thing. Ultimately, the decision is made to find what it is that's making it so angry and get rid of it.

  • Played with in The Order of the Stick: being based on a roleplaying game, violence is often used as a means of solving problems (particularly ones that involve Belkar), but at least once, Roy has invoked this trope to justify not killing anyone. At the Godsmoot, where there's a vote taking place on whether the world should be destroyed or not (due to the danger Xykon and The Gates present), the vote is all tied up due to unexpected involvement from a vampire cleric of Hel.
    Roy: Honestly, I've got half a mind to take one for the team and try [to kill the vampire at the Godsmoot] anyway. Being dead's not so bad. (...) But even if I could kill her before they toasted me, that still wouldn't tie this up with a neat little bow. If I die, my team falls apart and big X moves into scoring position.And everyone is right back here to voting in a week or two.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons is all about the conflicting views between Violence Really Is the Answer and this trope; when your enemies include Physical God psychopaths, hordes of blood-thirsty enemies, and the universe itself, do you choose to keep fighting despite impossible odds, or do you try to find a way out?

    Western Animation 
  • In an early episode of Justice League Unlimited, violence and anger power the Annihilator armor, something Ares uses to set the Annihilator loose in the Kasnian civil war. Sheathe Your Sword is enough to shut the armor down but to drive Ares away, the two Kasnian factions stand down for the day and according to a later episode, open diplomatic ties to resolve the conflict.
  • In one episode of Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Po faces a demon that gets bigger and stronger when you fight him, absorbing the power of each hit he gets. Po eventually defeats him by not fighting, letting the demon expend all his power trying to hit him until he's small enough to be captured.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "The Cutie Re-Mark - Part 1" and "Part 2", the villain Starlight Glimmer uses time travel to change the past. Twilight Sparkle gets pulled along with the time travel spell and tries to stop Starlight by fighting her. But after several failed loops, Twilight realizes that fighting can't work: the side effects of their fight wind up altering the timeline just as badly as Starlight did herself. Twilight only succeeds by showing Starlight the Bad Future her actions are creating, and talking her into giving up her quest for revenge.
  • In the ninth season of Ninjago, a newly revived Garmadon gets stronger the more he fights. So during the final battle, instead of fighting him, Lloyd instead simply dodges and avoids his attacks, both weakening him and causing him to recklessly injure himself. As some bonus Irony, by doing this Lloyd is using the exact same technique good Garmadon taught him back in Season 3.
  • An episode of The Powerpuff Girls, "Three Girls and a Monster", features Blossom and Buttercup arguing over how best to defeat a monster attacking Townsville. However, neither of them can so much as slow it down. It stops only when Bubbles gets tired of all this, flies right up to it, and asks it politely to leave, pretty please with sugar on top. The monster turns around and leaves.
  • Rick and Morty: Rick has no problem with just shooting whatever ails him, so typically, he's only not killing things when doing so wouldn't solve his problems. A specific example comes with the Cromulons, giant floating space-heads that force Earth into a musical reality show. While the heroes themselves don't try to solve this by just blowing them up, a nuke-happy general does... to predictable results.
  • Being one of the six great cosmic monsters of the universe, Tokka the Vorkathian Fire Tortoise from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) is nigh-indestructible (like when she survived a supernova virtually unscathed). In Tokka vs the World, Tokka travels to Earth, having followed the turtles with the intent of retrieving her baby Chompy Picasso from them. General Griffen's first instinct is to use the technology loaned to the Earth Protection Force from the Utrom to force it to leave, but Bishop knows that none of it would work and it would only piss it off (which it does). It is not until the turtles give Chompy back and show that they were taking good care of him does she decide to leave in peace without him.
  • The Pottsylvania Creeper from Jay Ward's series Rocky and Bullwinkle is a man-eating plant introduced to America by Fearless Leader. The plant defies any attempt to destroy it, actually gaining strength and resilience from such efforts. The Creeper is done in by kindness and nurturing, which causes it to wither and shrivel, since Evil Cannot Comprehend Good.