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Would Not Shoot a Civilian

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(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
Article 3(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949

A military Sub-Trope of Never Hurt an Innocent: only combatants are proper targets—which does not include The Medic, or The Chaplain. May encompass Wouldn't Hit a Girl when women are not in the armed forces and usually does include Wouldn't Hurt a Child. Those who violate this are generally portrayed as not good combatants. Indeed, good combatants will try to minimize even accidental civilian deaths. The Anti-Hero combatant, however, may not care; considerable conflict can arise from these clashing moralities. Naturally villains tend not to care about this rule and might even go out of their way to kill civilians as a form of Kick the Dog; of course if even a villain refuses to attack civilians then it is a case of Even Evil Has Standards it might even signify an Anti-Villain.

Sink The Life Boats is particularly vicious for civilian ships.

Proud Warrior Race Guy or Blood Knight types may get at this trope in a sideways manner, rejecting civilians as unworthy opponents because they are weak and cowardly, unworthy of fighting. Pragmatic Villainy may also be a factor; bullets cost money, after all.

Truth in Television, at least in theory. Under The Laws and Customs of War, targeting civilians is a war crime — a principle that goes back as far as the Knight in Shining Armor and chivalry. On the other, to encourage combatants to comply, civilians must also not attack combatants lest they be labeled as the enemy, and combatants must not dress as civilians; both are war crimes for which the offenders can be shot if caught and convicted. In addition, if civilians are accidentally or incidentally but unavoidably killed in the process of attacking a legitimate military target, it's (usually) not considered an offense. War Crime Subverts Heroism exploits this trope for its punch.

More cynical works may display characters (good or bad, depending on just how cynical the work gets) taking advantage of this rule, either by taking human shields or attacking out of uniform in order to gain a first strike, after all, civilian does not mean not dangerous or even preclude being antagonistic. Alternatively, there is nothing stopping the good guys from accidentally killing civilians due to anything from incompetence to misinformation, the latter of which might even have been a setup.

Can also apply to other situations where there is a stark division with Guys With Guns and Guys Without Guns.

See Would Not Shoot a Good Guy for when characters do not shoot back at (some) of those actually shooting at them.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, this is one of the main things that sets the main group of Celestial Being apart from the Trinities: while Celestial Being targets military, criminal, or mercenary groups trying to promote conflict, they do not attack civilians if they can help it. One early episode shows Lockon deliberately missing some civilian workers at a mine he was trying to destroy, in order to scare them off instead of killing them. The Trinities, however, have no qualms about attacking civilian targets if they're connected in some way to conflict. They also show no real problem with one of their own slaughtering a wedding because she was bored.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, Arrow of the Blue Team, a group of African freedom fighters working with Neo-Zeon, kills some of his own comrades for firing on someone who appeared to be a civilian running from the fight. Unfortunately, that "civilian" was actually the pilot of the ZZ Gundam.
  • Said almost word for word by Suzaku in Code Geass when he is ordered to shoot Lelouch. He's promptly shot for refusing, although he does survive.
  • In Hellsing, Father Alexander Anderson turns against Bishop Maxwell when he leads a holy crusade upon Millennium's Nazi vampires and then also attempts to kill all of the innocent Protestant survivors of London, even going as far as to order his men to ignore the vampires and focus on not only killing Protestants, but also any Catholic who refused to do so. Anderson is a Knight Templar and a Church Militant who rarely questions the most violent of orders handed down by the Vatican, but it's also made clear that Anderson has a strong moral compass and won't abide the killing of defenseless civilians. So, instead of backing up the genocidal Maxwell, Anderson is completely disgusted by Maxwell's bloodlust and the slaughter of so many innocent Christians and readily assists Alucard in killing him by shattering the glass box protecting him from Alucard's ravening familiars.
  • In Jojos Bizarre Adventure Golden Wind, Narancia controls the Stand Aerosmith(aka Lil Bomber), a miniature airplane equipped with a machine gun and other weapons that locks on sources of carbon dioxide. Despite his violent and impulsive personality, he's careful not to deploy his stand where it might end up shooting noncombatants by mistake. He does end up shooting Risotto Nero, the head of the Hitman Team, instead of The Boss despite intending to kill the latter, but since Risotto wanted Narancia and the rest of Bucciarati's group dead, it's not a terrible loss.

    Fan Works 

  • A key premise of many post-WWII military action movies like Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor, and is the central conflict in Rules of Engagement. This trope often manifests as one side using this rule against the other side—typically by deliberately using a human shield as a strategic advantage. Obeying this rule often leads to many casualties and/or a no-win situation because "we can't fire back; they're using civilians." The characters are often portrayed as evil (e.g. in many Vietnam war movies) when they do not follow this rule.
  • Hard Boiled has The Dragon, Mad Dog, who despite his name and sheer ruthlessness is a Noble Demon who refuses to gun down non-combatants (despite the low-level mooks having no issue doing so), even postponing a shootout against the film's lancer when caught in a corridor filled with innocent bystanders.
  • The Predator, very much in the Proud Warrior Race Guy subtrope mentioned in the description. This is perhaps best highlighted in AVP: Alien vs. Predator, where a Predator (initially) refuses to kill an assailant because he has a bad heart. Also, across all of the films Predators rarely kill anyone who is unarmed (at least in the case of humans; their other staple prey, Xenomorphs, are non-sentient and don't use weapons). In Predator 2, a Predator refrains from killing an armed female police officer when he sees that she is pregnant, and child when he realizes that the gun the kid is pointing at him is just a toy.
  • In Reservoir Dogs, the crooks are outraged that Mr. Blonde would start shooting bystanders for no reason. When asking if Mr. White had shot anyone, Mr. Pink is quick to distinguish between "cops" and "real people."
  • Tony Montana in Scarface (1983) refuses to carry out a hit that would also kill the target's wife and kids. Tony's moral code allows him to kill only in defense or retaliation (in his words "I ain't never fucked nobody that didn't try to fuck me first"). His willingness to take part in that hit in the first place (the target being an activist who'd done nothing to him) showed that his principles were on the decline. His fellow mobsters don't share the same moral views which results in his downfall.
  • This is what lands Ben Richards in prison at the start of The Running Man, although it's done on principle, since he refused when ordered to fire upon hungry, protesting civilians.
  • The unwillingness of Chow Yun-Fat's hitman character to kill a child is the catalyst for the hiring of The Replacement Killers in the John Woo film of the same name.
  • Captain von Schoenvorts in The Land That Time Forgot refuses to allow the killing of civilian survivors of a ship his U-Boat just torpedoed.
  • In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the order for Finn's battalion to murder an entire village causes his Mook–Face Turn, as much because he knows he's screwed when Phasma inevitably discovers he didn't fire a single shot as it is the immorality of the order.
  • James Bond expresses sentiments like this (in spirit, at least, since his business makes the division between civilian and combatant even fuzzier) in The Living Daylights — his superiors accuse him of deliberately not killing a (beautiful) female assassin, but Bond counters that he's perfectly okay with killing females, the reason he shot the gun instead was that he could see from the way she was handling it that she was most definitely not the professional KGB assassin he'd been told she'd be. Not surprisingly, who she actually is and why she was involved eventually ends up being crucial to the plot.
  • Comes up in John Wick.
    • John Wick is a retired hit man who used to work for the Russian Mafia stationed inside New York, and gained an infamous reputation for being a professional, no nonsense killer who would make sure the job got done at all costs. He retired from the Mafia when he did an impossible task that killed so many people that his former boss was able to build the criminal empire he has today upon the foundation of those bodies. However, with that said, John is shown to do his best to avoid getting civilians caught in the crossfire. When he has Iosef — the man he wants revenge on for killing his dog and stealing his car — in his sights he refuses to take the shot because he has an innocent civilian as a human shield at the time. And later on when he has a clear shot on him while he's in the middle of a crowd he refuses to take the shot unless it would cleanly hit him and only him. John is not above killing bodyguards who are in the way of him and his target, nor shooting his way out when he's been compromised, but John never shoots at someone unless they're armed and a present danger to him.
    • This trope also applies to the Continental Assassin's Guild as a whole, per Word of God. The directors said that so long as the assassins don't target civilians (or kill cops for that matter) then the police are fine with letting them put contract murders on other rival criminals. Just don't get too many civilians caught in the cross fire or else we'll be forced to step in, is the standing agreement between the cops and the assassins.
  • Solo (1996): Solo stops the mission which he was sent on after he's realized this would kill many civilians in the area. It causes the US Army to order him destroyed, and commission a new robot soldier that lacks his inhibition.

  • Subverted In Operation Massacre, as the police forces deliberately shot the civilians in an attempt to shut down any civilian support to the counter-revolt against the Aramburu's Military Coup.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Encarmine, Rafen is horrified to see Blood Angels shooting down civilians. When he appeals to Arkio on these grounds, Arkio is clearly shaken by the charge.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Horus Heresy novel False Gods, when Horus is felled by his injuries, the Space Marines bringing him slaughter the civilians who are pressing in — blocking the way. (In Ben Counter's Galaxy In Flames, Loken deduced that Varkasus, who wanted the killers court-martialed, was murdered for that.)
  • In G. K. Chesterton's Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, a Prussian officer is not quite telling a subordinate to murder another soldier by shooting him In the Back, and explains he chose him for two reasons: one was his shooting ability, and the other was the time he had shot an old woman for not giving him information. The officer explains that he exerted influence to avoid the soldier's being charged.
  • In Nick Kyme's Warhammer 40,000 novel Salamander, the Back Story between the Salamander and the Marines Malevolent revolves about a time where the Marines Malevolent fired on civilian camps.
  • In Dan Abnett's Brothers of the Snake, when they locate civilians, they bring them to safety, and Priad promises to protect them. When they reveal themselves as cultists, he slaughters them with the rest.
    • Of course they don't really count as civilians then.
  • In John C. Wright's The Phoenix Exultant, Atkins is glad that Daphne and Phaethon survived so that he can report no civilian casualties — at least, he says that's his motive.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Beyond the Black River", after all the slaughter he sees the Picts inflict, it is the sight of two mutilated civilians — one a woman — that enrages Balthus.
  • In A Night in the Lonesome October it's not even limited to humans. The canine narrator accepts that before the end some Players (and maybe even familiars) will kill each other, though deems it less than necessary, but really doesn't like involvement of others, warned normal animals away from the site of ritual and twice actually referred to them as "civilians".
  • In Jasper Fforde's One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing, the massacre of the clown army is noted as an atrocity because medical personnel and other civilians were massacred.
  • Discworld:
    • Parodied when Detritus offers to shoot a bull in a crowded street (long story) with his siege engine-turned-crossbow (with six foot long bolts). Vimes says no.
      Vimes: It might hit an innocent person, even in Ankh-Morpork.
    • The Guild of Assassins are supposed to practice this: they may kill people for money, but they will not harm or kill any innocents — particularly servants or family members — in the process, whether due to a twisted sense of morality or merely because it would be 'bad form'. (Bodyguards are fair game, though.) This is why they tend to assassinate (or attempt to, anyway) targets in their homes rather than on the street or at their places of work, so that no one else comes into their line of fire. There's no actual rule against this, however, as Mr. Teatime demonstrates.
    • In Night Watch, when ordered to fire on unarmed protestors, Vimes's response is to knock the officer giving the order unconscious.
  • In A Little Vice, all Abyssal Beasts but Superbia Dragon have shown a desire to minimize damage to regular humans. Avaritia Wolf picks Invidia Bat to help with it, as Gula Shark, her previous advisor, defected and became Saint Temperantia.
  • In John Hemry's The Lost Fleet, Geary insists on not killing prisoners or bombarding civilian targets. In Valiant, one Alliance prisoner is hauled out to be asked if it was true, and when he confirms it, the Syndics decide not to carry out their orders. After a while, this actually gives him a sizable advantage because people and even on several occasions entire planets offer to surrender because they know that they will be safe in doing so.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, when a hit takes out a man's mistress as well as himself, disapproval is strong.
  • In John Hemry's Paul Sinclair novel A Just Determination, Paul think it would be much easier if they could face a warship rather than a ship that may be one in civilian disguise, because they would be entitled to fight then.
  • In the Star Wars Legends, there aren't really clear signs of if a civilian is a Rebel or Imperial or sympathizes with either cause—it's not a matter of country or planet or species—so this trope is wrestled with on several occasions.
    • Daric LaRone, one of the stormtroopers of Star Wars: Allegiance, gets in trouble when it is discovered that, on a mission to wipe out suspected Rebel insurgents—i.e. kill everyone in a town—he aimed to miss the unarmed civilians. Later he discovers he is the unofficial leader of his band of defecting stormtroopers because he has a position of moral superiority—the one other who looked like a leadership prospect refused the position because he had followed his orders.
    • In the X-Wing Series, the Rogues at one point attack a spaceport. Rogue Leader, Wedge Antilles, is aware that it is tactically necessary, so he goes through with it, but gives orders to try to limit civilian casualties, and later sets up funds to help the families of those who were killed there, remembering that his own family was similar collateral.
    • Discussed in The Bacta War, where Elscol tells Iella that if the civilians don't side with her insurgency, they're tacitly on the Empire's side and she'll target them as well. Iella is appalled by this and makes it clear she won't go along with that.
    • I, Jedi has Corran Horn become furious when he sees a pirate gunning for a civilian landspeeder. Even later, when he's terrorizing a town full of mostly pirates, he does his right best to not kill civilians and those pirates who aren't so nasty.
    • In Death Star the fact that the titular superweapon can, well, destroy an entire planet doesn't sit easy with a number of the people working on it for this reason. They comfort themselves by saying it will never actually be used on an inhabited world, just moons and large ships and so on, and this will scare people into behaving. After it's tested on a prison world there are some excuses, but even claiming that all those prisoners were vicious scum who'd never be allowed to leave could only go so far; there had been guards, too, who hadn't been evacuated. Later, the gunner states that he can't believe for an instant that all of the people on Alderaan were Rebels.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's novel Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan, mindful of his uncle's stern lectures about treating prisoners of war, has them wake up the stunned goons for necessities.
  • In Marion G. Harmon's Wearing the Cape, this trope is invoked when explaining the relationships between organized crime and superheroes. Attacking superhero's private identities brings out the vigilante superheroes.
  • In the Honorverse, this is what separated the April Tribunal, Eloise Pritchart's cell of the otherwise-bloody Citizens' Rights Union, from the rest of its ranks, which boasted such notorious members as Cordelia Ransom. It's because of this defining characteristic that Eloise — known as Brigade Commander Delta in her CRU days — was recruited by the Committee of Public Safety, something which she allowed and played along with in order to hopefully do some good with the power she was given. It worked; a couple of revolutions and a Secret Relationship later, the April Tribunal's goals were fully realised with the Theisman Coup, the restoration of the original Constitution, and Eloise Pritchart's election as President of the Republic of Haven.
  • Invoked in Animorphs. Crayak wants to genocide the Ishkoort but the Ellimist won't let him. They decide that the species' fate will be decided by having a group of proxies fight to the death on the Ishkoort home world. One of the conditions, however, is that Crayak's Howlers can't hurt any Ishkoort until they win. Naturally, our heroes start hanging out in crowds after figuring that out that rule.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Jon's steadfast refusal to kill an old man for the Wildlings is what blows his cover.
  • Omar Little of The Wire is a Robin Hood-type who robs (and sometimes wounds or even kills) drug dealers for a living, but he only targets those involved in "the game". One of the Barksdale crew killing an ordinary guy is what first motivates him to give the police information.
    Detective "Bunk" Moreland: So, why'd you step up on this?
    Omar: Bird triflin', basically. Kill an everyday workin' man an' all. I mean, don't get it twisted, I do some dirt, too, but I ain't never put my gun on nobody who wasn't in the game.
    Bunk: [with some but not wholehearted approval] A man must have a code.
    Omar: Oh, no doubt.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    • Played straight in "Rules of Engagement" when Worf is accused and then exonerated of blowing up a civilian transport during a skirmish with the Klingons, Captain Sisko makes it clear that he got lucky this time. Starfleet officers make sure who they are shooting at is a legitimate target before opening fire, even if that hesitation risks their own deaths.
    • Averted hard with Kira Nerys, at least during the Occupation. In "The Darkness And The Light", after she is kidnapped by a civilian laborer who was maimed in a bombing carried out by her Bajoran Resistance cell, she furiously tells her kidnapper that every Cardassian who was on Bajor during the Occupation was guilty and in her eyes they were all legitimate targets.
  • In The Thick of It, Malcolm Tucker explicitly invokes this trope when asked, during the Goolding Inquiry, whether he was involved in the leak of a civilian's illegally acquired medical records which ultimately led to the man's suicide. Tucker compares political power struggles to a combat environment, and vehemently denies any involvement with the leak, stating that while he's totally okay with the backstabbing and leaking that goes on behind the scenes, he would never do anything like that to someone who is not actively involved in politics. He is, of course, lying through his teeth.
  • In the last Horatio Hornblower series, Lieutenant Bush has the villain at gunpoint but can't bring himself to fire because the man is unarmed, in spite of all the damage he's caused and Hornblower ordering Bush to do it.note  The man escapes and Hornblower is not happy. When the villain later tries to pull an I Surrender, Suckers, however, Bush has no problem filling him with lead.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Flash Gordon objects to the Lion Men's going to shoot Aura on the grounds she is unarmed; they argue that her evil justifies them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Some depictions of Warhammer 40,000's Chaos god Khorne once hinted at this, having him only interested in warrior blood and warrior skulls. Rarely evoked in these Grimdark days.
    • Some Khornite berserkers — including World-Eaters — sought out "worthy foes" and ignored those who could not fight.
      • That said, most don't. Hey, Khorne doesn't care whose blood is spilt, only that someone's is.
      • He also doesn't like dishonorable pansies and cowardice. So running away will get you targeted anyway. And if you're unable to fight due to injuries? Mercy Kill.
      • Also extends to his followers, too. Presenting the skull of a defenseless victim to the blood god is a surefire way to get yourself killed by him for the cowardice of choosing a defenseless victim over a worthy opponent. At least his positive traits show sometimes...
    • His Fantasy version is better in this regard. He still has more than his fair share of blood-crazed berserkers, but many of his followers are Blood Knights who prefer fair fights to prove themselves honestly better. The same thing applies to Blood Dragon vampires; they won't hesitate to kill civilians for food but spend most of their time seeking out worthy opponents and tend to ignore anything that doesn't fit into that criteria.
    • Varies with Space Marines from Chapter to Chapter. Chapters like the Ultramarines, Salamanders, Blood Angels, Raven Guard, and Space Wolves will not fire on targets that would result in collateral civilian deaths unless they absolutely have to. The Space Wolves are in fact notable for trying to prevent the Inquisition from declaring Exterminatus if they can. Other chapters such as the Iron Hands, Marines Malevolent, Flesh Tearers and several others simply regard civilians as weak and worthless. The Flesh Tearers especially are infamous for their tendency to butcher civilians and their allied forces alongside the enemy, and the Marines Malevolent are basically just a bunch of Jerks who view civilians, as well as Imperial Guard and even other Space Marines, as simple Cannon Fodder.
    • And then there's the Grey Knights, who will mercilessly butcher civilians if there is a risk they are tainted. Not out of malice, but because they know that a single act of mercy can and likely will doom an entire world when it comes to daemonic corruption.
    • The Tau Empire avoids targeting civilians of the worlds they conquer, by logical extension that they are one of the few races that seek to subjugate other peoples rather than annihilate them.
    • Worth noting that the above are exceptions, not the rule. This trope is usually averted. Even by the so-called "Good" factions aren't above this most of the time. And the evil races like the Forces of Chaos, the Orks and the Dark Eldar... They do a lot worse things to civilians than shoot them; you really don't want to know. It's that kind of universe.
  • Witch Hunter: The Invisible World. Baykok spirits will not attack noncombatant opponents. Innocent bystanders, children, and other civilians who don't attack them have nothing to fear from them.
  • In Pathfinder, the god Gorum is more or less the embodiment of the Blood Knight, reveling in battle for its own sake, with little concern for morality. What keeps him Chaotic Neutral instead of Chaotic Evil is that he considers the wholesale slaughter of defenseless civilians beneath a true warrior—an enemy who cannot fight back is no proof of one's combat prowess. (Although, it's also noted that there's a distinct difference in his mind between those who can't fight, and the cowards who simply won't.)
  • GURPS has the "Cannot Harm Innocents" version of the Pacifism disadvantage, which essentially means that you cannot use deadly force on an opponent not attempting to do the same to you, and also requires you to avoid actions that risk injuring innocents through collateral damage. The purpose of the disadvantage varies between editions and sourcebooks; it was originally designed for Noble Demon Anti-Villains who refused to murder civilians, but since then it's been extended to heroic types who likewise refuse to shoot civilians.
  • In BattleTech, especially at the game's beginning in the early 31st Century this was fairly common except for a few factions. But lots of fighting tends to occur in and around cities and as advanced technology became more widespread the destructive power of mechs increased, making civilian casualties more common.
    • It's notable that the people who defy this rule are generally the ones that the otherwise eternally quarrelsome Inner Sphere band together against—most recently Clan Smoke Jaguar after they razed the capital city of Turtle Bay from space and the Word of Blake after they freely began nuking and biohazard/chemical bombing pretty much everyone.
  • The Lazarus Group in Cyberpunk 2020, a Mega-Corp that is an army-for-hire, states in their T&Cs that they will not fire upon civilians except if the latter attack them. Collateral damages are probably, of course, another thing.

    Video Games 
  • According to the manual, the hero of Doom was ordered by his superior to fire upon civilians, and the marine responded by assaulting his superior instead. The marine is reassigned to the UAC facilities on Phobos, and then all Hell breaks loose...
  • In Scarface: The World Is Yours, trying to kill a civilian will be refused by Tony, who explains to the player that it goes against his code. Managing to bypass it only makes them get back up and flee the scene.
    • This doesn't stop him from laughing like a maniac when he runs a civilian over with his car.
  • Whether a Merc follows orders to shoot civilians (a bad idea for the penalties it gives) is the quickest way to tell if any given merc in Jagged Alliance 2 falls under the Psycho for Hire label.
  • Enforced in the German and Japanese versions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: the whole point of the "No Russian" mission is to shoot the civilians. However, the local Moral Guardians made that impossible by giving you a Non Standard Game Over when you do as much as graze a civilian with a stray bullet.
    • In the other versions the player can choose to do this anyway (the outcome's the same either way).
    • Disturbingly averted by the players who tested that level. Reportedly, every single player opened fire on the civilians despite no prompt to do so being given.
      • In the release version of the game, the player is instructed to shoot the civilians, though not explicitly ("Follow Makarov's lead" rather than "Shoot the civilians".)
    • Enforced throughout the rest of the game, though, as killing a civilian in any other level will give you a Non Standard Game Over, though the game is at least kind enough to notice if it's an accident.
  • A variation occurs with Reaper from Overwatch in the "Infiltration" short. Despite being a mercyless gunman who doesn't hesitate a second to eliminate a given target, he immediately stops attacking one russian soldier who very clearly threw his gun and surrendered - having laid his weapon, he is considered a non-combatant, a non-valid target, and Reaper immediately ignores him to focus on those who are still fighting.
  • There is an inter-party argument at the end of your first visit to Onderon in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords about whether throwing grenades during a Blast Out at a crowded bar is an acceptable tactical option. Light Side companions advise against it, while Dark Side companions suggest tossing some and using the chaos to cover your escape.
  • It's up to the player to decide whether or not Shepard is this type of officer in Mass Effect. Generally you can't anyway. Even the most bastardous of Renegade characters won't get that many opportunities, with exceptions like Feros. Even the Council is only willing to put up with so much from you, after all. You don't want to do anything that gets you put on the SPECTRE hitlist.
    • Paragon Shepard never would hurt an innocent, something Tela Vasir mocks them for in Lair of the Shadow Broker as she holds a woman hostage. Shepard mentions some of the things they've done that have caused hundreds of people to die over the course of the preceding games, questioning if Vasir's entire escape plan hinges on Shepard hesitating to shoot just one person to stop her. This bluff sufficiently freaks Vasir out, allowing your squadmate Liara to telekinetically throw a table at her, while she lets her guard down.
    • On the NPC side, this is one of the reasons why several people dislike Saren, because to him unarmed civilians are "potential diversionary tactics" at the best of times. He's tolerated as a SPECTRE because he gets the job done, even if that occasionally means the destruction of a massive industrial installation and thousands of deaths. Though, nobody likes him after it's undeniably proven that he's now an agent of the Reapers.
    • Wholly averted by the Turians. Being a Proud Warrior Race in the extreme, all Turians serve in the military for a while after they hit adulthood. Therefore, they consider any and all population centres with adults to be military installations. They are reluctant to abandon this mindset when facing other races.
    • The CAT6 mercenary group in the Citadel DLC for 3 is composed of violent soldiers dishonorably discharged from the Alliance, and they're introduced by storming a sushi restaurant Shepard is visiting and starting a firefight, but afterwards, EDI notes that there were no civilian casualties in the aftermath. Given that the DLC is easily the silliest in the franchise, opening with a massacre of innocent bystanders would've caused severe Mood Dissonance.
    • The kett of Mass Effect: Andromeda do not subscribe to this. One of the first activities of theirs the player learns of is the entirely unprovoked attack on the first two Andromeda colonies. Later on, sidequests around Voeld show they repeatedly target major population centers, with one specific sidequest mentioning the local forces destroyed an entirely settlement because it had a few members of La Résistance.
  • Shirou blows an ambush at one point in Fate/stay night with his insistence of asking Kuzuki if he really knows what he's getting involved in. He's also outraged at Archer's rather pragmatic view of civilian casualties.
    • Indeed, the technical "rules" of the Grail War call for the Masters and Servants to avoid civilian casualties, for the pragmatic reason of not drawing attention to themselves (this is also policy among magi in general). How strictly this is followed depends on the Master in question; Ilya and Rin, for instance, refuse to attack Shirou near witnesses, while Caster is perfectly willing to (covertly) drain civilians for power, and Ryuunosuke and Zero Caster openly flout the rule by kidnapping and torturing people.
    • Oh, and summoning Cthulhu in the middle of the city. That too.
      • It's not the Grail's rules, but the Mages' Association and the Holy Church's to avoid involving civilians as part of maintaining The Masquerade, and they will enforce their rules on non-members taking part in the War. However, if damage control measures call for extremes, both the MA and HC will kill as many civilians as it takes to preserve their secrecy. For example, Lancer's Master is a member of both, and as little as he liked it, he was obligated to dispose of Shirou after witnessing a Grail battle.
  • A variant of this is enforced in the Pokémon series; while Pokemon-on-Pokemon violence is acceptable and a part of everyday life and human-to-Pokemon violence is considered either Bullying a Dragon (when the Pokemon is wild) or abuse (when the Pokemon belongs to abusing trainer), commanding an attack on a trainer or other human is either in bad form or outright illegal, unless used as a criminal suppression tactic (e.g. Lance in Mahogany), and if other options remain nonviable. While it may be implied that villainous teams can do this on a whim, not even Team Plasma goes that far in the game continuity. On the other hand, the Donphan goes on a rampage throughout Pokémon Adventures due to its Darker and Edgier nature, and Cipher will attack or even kill humans who obstruct its operations in any continuity.
    • An animated trailer for Black 2 shows Team Plasma ordering a Seviper to use Bite, after which it clearly attacks the protagonist rather than his Pokemon. His Arcanine has to come in from the side and Bite the Seviper. Since this was impossible to show in the games Save for that one time Ghetsis has Kyurem attack you in the field, one can assume whenever you're up against villainous teams they're trying to attack you specifically and you're only using your Pokémon in self defense.
    • This gets frustrating in Pokémon Ranger games, where the villain of the mission is often allowed to continue with their plans uninhibited while the protagonists watch, simply because the rangers are seemingly incapable of using force as a solution. The only time a villain is apprehended before the end of the game is when the rangers capture Blue Eyes in Guardian Signs, and that's only because Ukulele Pichu was acting on its own. Even then, it's treated more like a kidnapping than any sort of lawful arrest.
  • In Lost Horizon, the protagonist's Dark and Troubled Past revolves around his court martial and discharge for ordering his unit to fire into a crowd of civilian protesters. In fact, he didn't give any such order, with the shooting having begun when he rushed forward to help a friend without thinking how either the crowd or his jittery troops would interpret it. He regards his actions as a terrible mistake, but the army chose to pretend that the killings were his deliberate order — that way, they had a clear villain to punish, assuaging public opinion better than saying "it was an accident!" would. The protagonist is therefore conflicted — he doesn't like what he did, but also feels that he's been made a scapegoat.
  • This trope is enforced in most Light Gun Games: shooting innocent civilians will, in most cases, result in the loss of a life.
  • This is how Billy Coen in Resident Evil 0 got where he is at the start of the game — he's a former Marine whose squad was sent in to take out a guerrilla complex, only to instead stumble upon a civilian village. The rest of the squad, at this point going crazy from the conditions, decide to attack the village anyway; it's implied that Billy reacts much like the Doomguy above and attacked his squad members over it, hence why he's a military prisoner who was being taken to his execution before he and his escort found out firsthand that there are bigger problems out there.
  • Walker and company in Spec Ops: The Line would (initially) never intentionally shoot at civilians, as they are trying to save the refugees from the ruins of Dubai; until they inadvertently dump several white phosphorus mortar rounds onto a civilian refugee camp full of families. Oops. It all goes downhill from there, up until Adams begs Walker for permission to open fire on a mob of civilians after they lynched his friend. However, he won't shoot until you do; if you take a nonviolent option, he will follow suit.
  • PAYDAY: The Heist has civilians who are caught in the crossfire between yourself and the cops. While the crew are against harming civilians since said civilians are never armed and are not the crew's actual targets, there's nothing stopping the player from killing them anyway. However, killing innocents adds a delay to your release should you go into police custody, meaning you're forced to sit out of the game for a longer period of time. The sequel ramps up the penalties by not only making the delay even longer, but you also lose cash to cover up the cleaning costs.
  • Averted in Kaiju A Gogo. You would let your kaiju destroy civilian residences and stomp on them. In fact, doing so drops city morale faster than going after other kinds of targets.
  • Played with in Fallout: New Vegas: While Boone and the rest of 1st Recon Sniper Battalion follow their orders to shoot any Great Khans fleeing Bitter Springs, the people trying to escape were the Khans injured, children, and elderly. This has affected all parties involved heavily and forms the basis of Boone's companion quest as he tries to come to terms with his actions. This can lead to him never getting over it and becoming a heartless assassin or killing his former CO Captain Gillies and himself, or making amends and waging a one-man war against Caesar's Legion or reenlisting with his old squad.
  • Enforced in TRON 2.0: If Jet derezzes a "civilian" program, the OS announces "Illegal Program Termination" and the game ends.
  • In the various Command & Conquer games, the good guys are by default not able to shoot civilians, since they are not marked as targets (though force-fire still works on them). The bad guys generally consider civilians valid targets, and the various incarnations of Nod, the Soviets, and especially the GLA make a point to slaughter civilians if it benefits them - in fact, the first Soviet mission of Red Alert has you massacring entire villages that happen to have a few resistance fighters. A cut mission of the GLA campaign in Command & Conquer: Generals even had "kill the civilians" as its sole mission objective for the purpose of testing biological weapons.
    • One major exception to this comes in the first Red Alert game: in the Allied campaign, once they begin the invasion of Russia, civilians and civilian buildings become normal targets without needing to use the force-fire option.
  • In GoldenEye (1997), there are missions where one of the victory conditions is not killing scientists or civilians. However, the number of civilian/scientist deaths allowed can be high and the level doesn't automatically end when an objective is failed, so players not caring about failing the objective can shoot or even run people over with a tank at will.
  • A variant in Dragon Quest Builders 2, where it's not opposing soldiers and civilians. In Moonbrooke, Malroth starts to lose his mind to bloodthirst. He's worryingly callous about the lives of the soldiers who follow him, but only them. Case in point; he rallies soldiers into a losing battle, but he warned the only civilian in the area to hide.


    Web Original 
  • Red vs. Blue, in Season 15, Sarge sides with the Blues and Reds because he can't function without an enemy to fight, but quickly draws the line when ordered to shoot civilians.
  • In Look to the West, the Societist Combine believes this (there's no such thing as an "enemy national", because nations are just the invention of the supposed leaders and their paid killers, who are the only enemy, and the whole reason the Celetores have to fight these killers is to "free" the people living in the areas they've claimed), but the ENA, who don't really understand Societist beliefs beyond "they're crazy", don't know that. When the Societists attempt to take out all the forts surrounding Fredericksberg with rockets containing a potent mixture of Deadly Gas and a powerful solvent, only the ones nearest and furtherest from them strike. The ENA interpretes this as a statement that they could, if they wished, target Fredericksberg, but the Celetores don't realise this at all, leading to one of the most confused peace settlements in history.

    Western Animation 
  • The main reason that the Gaang doesn't like Jet in Avatar: The Last Airbender. While they both oppose the Fire Nation, the Gaang follows this trope and Jet doesn't, much to the Gaang's horror when they find out about his plan to flood a village to kill some Fire Nation soldiers, even though civilians from the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom would be caught in it as well.