Cruelty Is the Only Option

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"Moral choice system, hmmm?" "Well, not really," I would reply. "More a violent option or equally violent but better spirited option."

In a game where Stupidity Is the Only Option, the player is forced to violate their common sense in order to continue. Cruelty Is the Only Option is when the player is forced to do something that seems unnecessarily mean in order to continue playing. This isn't just when you kill an enemy that's trying to kill you. That can be seen as self-defense. This is when you take an NPC who is a minor inconvenience to you, or else not in the way at all, and have to intentionally harm, inconvenience, or psychologically damage that person.

Very often the reward gained for doing this seems disproportionately small compared to the damage the player caused.

Please note that this is when the player is forced to do these things - if the Player Character does it in a cutscene, then that's a What the Hell, Hero? moment. Compare Video Game Cruelty Potential, where you can do mean things, but don't have to. May lead to You Bastard, but quite often doesn't.

Examples of Cruelty Is the Only Option include:


Action[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Trio the Punch, the last level has you beating up a bunch of innocent animals. The game calls you out for this "CRUETY" (sic).


Action Adventure[edit | hide]

  • One of the defining tropes of Shadow of the Colossus. Many of the Colossi don't attack you, or even notice you, when the battle start, content to just hang around. Some, like the flying sand dragon, barely even attack when provoked. You can watch them be beautiful all you want, but sooner or later, you have to stab them to death. They cry out, they flail in desperation, but you must murder.
  • In Illusion of Gaia, do you want all 50 Red Crystals? I hope you don't mind betraying an escaped slave to his pursuers in exchange for one of them.


Adventure Games[edit | hide]

  • Grim Fandango has many examples of this. Manny does many excessively mean things to Glottis, including turning on a machine while he's working on it so it'll toss him around while he cries in protest, poisoning him to force him to vomit, getting him fired, etc. Another puzzle has him gunk up the company mail system, forcing repairs.
    • Glottis will at least protest being used as ballast to unbalance a tree marrow pump (long story).
  • The Longest Journey: There are other things too, but special mention goes to Detective Minelli. First you poison him to get him to move, then you steal his glass eye (he obviously becomes very panicked when you do this). Other solutions involve conning your way around problems.
  • Police Quest 3 has an example of this. Eventually you will meet a jolly janitor who had just finished cleaning up the bathrooms. Cue Sonny clogging up a toilet with a whole roll of toilet paper, sending the janitor rushing off to fight against the flood to follow soon after just so Sonny can unlock his partner's locker in the women's bathrooms.
  • The Monkey Island games are full of these:
    • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge you have to trap Stan the salesman in a coffin and nail it shut to advance. In the next game you find him still stuck in that coffin in a tomb on Blood Island, and finally let him out.
    • Another example from the same game is taking Wally's monocle in order to progress. The poor little guy is Blind Without'Em, and he's so helpless that many fans felt sorry for him afterwards.
      • This got to the point where the developers cut out a scene in the game that would have had Wally accidentally drown trying to get his monocle after he dropped in the water. They couldn't do anything more to him without feeling bad.
      • In the third game, you find out that Wally has become a pirate after attending a seminar and listening to books-on-parrot. How do you get out? You make him cry. He feels better afterwards, though.
  • In Floyd, you need access to a phonebooth to change your clothes but a girl is talking to her boyfriend there. To advance, you need to spike his drink so he completely blunders and offends her. Since the world of Floyd is a horrible Big Brother dystopia, the girl promptly gets executed for being unhappy in public.
  • The Gabriel Knight series is pretty bad about this, although Gabriel is supposed to be kind of a jerk. Practically all the puzzles require lying, stealing, or otherwise manipulating people. In the first game, he repeatedly takes advantage of the generosity of his detective friend, Mosely, and at one point steals his badge and impersonates him just so that he can flirt with an attractive woman.
  • The Sam and Max games feature this constantly. For example, in "Abe Lincoln Must Die!", they trick one of the Soda Poppers into drinking alcohol so he'll get drunk and provoke a war among the three states of Dakota. Of course, since Sam and Max are themselves moderately sadistic, this is completely in character.
    • Then in "What's New, Beelzebub?", they have to get Jimmy Two-Teeth's dying son sent to Hell by swapping his record with Jimmy's.
  • The Dig had a puzzle where you had to resurrect an alien turtle...thing with an explosive inside of it, in order to blow up another animal, once it ate it.
  • Every Broken Sword game has a section where you must rip off a Recurring Extra. For example conning them out of $50 in the first game and getting them arrested in a 3rd world country in the second.
  • Ahh, the infamous Limbo of the Lost. Although at the very beginning of the game your character refuses to open a coffin, not wanting to desecrate the dead, he then goes on to steal a man's arm, remove copious amounts of bone from rotting corpses and skeletons, put a bear trap onto the eyes of one of the only sympathetic NPCs and hang a sleeping man so that you can access a control panel that he's lying on. And we're not even halfway through the game yet!
  • Strong Bads Cool Game for Attractive People features a Jerkass main character, so naturally a lot of this occurs.
  • In the final case of Justice For All, you're forced to accuse someone who you know is innocent (not to mention more than a little Woobie-ish by that point) to buy time. And to make matters worse, you also know by this point that you're defending an obviously guilty Complete Monster. The crowd even boos you for it. Almost guaranteed to make you feel like a terrible person.
  • You will torture more than a few rats in Ghost Trick. Various puzzles involve flinging rats across the room, dropping rats from the ceiling, spinning rats around and around, and in one memorable instance, electrocuting one, then lighting its tail on fire. Sissel even comments that he really owes that last one an apology. Considering he's a cat, that's saying something. The same sequence also has you dropping a chandelier on someone's head and hoisting her up to the ceiling with it.
  • The Nancy Drew game Legend of the Crystal Skull requires for Bess to snoop through the back room of Lamar's shop. Doing this requires doing things like giving Lamar diarrhea from spicy gumbo and sending him into a sneezing fit, as opposed to other games where all you had to do was just wait until the suspect was gone.
  • One puzzle in Stupid Invaders involves finding a delirious Santa Claus trapped in the chimney, and getting past him by dissolving him into a puddle of goo with toilet bowl cleaner.
  • In Takeshi's Challenge, you have to beat up the old man who gave you the Treasure Map, or you'll get a Game Over just before the ending.


First Person Shooter[edit | hide]

  • BioShock (series): being forced to hunt down, murder and photograph Sander Cohen's disciples/ex-lovers.
  • In Portal, GLaDOS invited my best friend the Companion Cube. Of course, he couldn't come because I murdered him.
    • In Portal 2, when Wheatley detaches himself from his rail and asks you to catch him, you can't, no matter how hard you try. He blames you for it later.
  • In Blood, at one point (near the end of the level "Sick Ward") you have to activate a switch which will open a necessary door... and simultaneously activate flamethrowers inside prison cells, burning several innocent civilians to death.
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has possibly the best example of this trope: the third mission in the game involves being an undercover special ops soldier in a group of Russian terrorists, and joining them on a massacre of hundreds of innocent unarmed civilians in a crowded airport. You don't have to participate, but the best you can do is to watch the other terrorists doing it without lifting a finger to prevent it. Oh, and then you're still forced to kill the SWAT teams that quickly show up to stop you. Interestingly, when you first start up the game, it offers you the option of skipping this mission entirely, knowing that it will probably shock and disturb a lot of players.
  • Bulletstorm at the very beginning of the game, you're forced as a in-game tutorial to kick a attempted bounty hunter into an airlock which your friend then releases...


Flash Games[edit | hide]

  • Lab of the Dead is a zombie game like no other: instead of charging through hordes of zombies with a shotgun, you are simply trying to study them. See the creatures become more human and react differently to various objects as you treat them with patience and kindness...what a shame that in order to unlock the advanced reactions, you first have to see the aggressive reactions, which come from the zombie being sufficiently pissed off and / or hungry. Since their mood stat changes very slowly, you'll be spending a lot of time whacking the zombie like a pinata while he's chained helplessly to a wall.
    • And you have to vary what you use to clobber the zombie or it becomes desensitized and its mood eventually stops dropping. It's a damn relief to buy the upgrade that increases the magnitude of mood alterations, because it is damn tedious.


Hack and Slash[edit | hide]

  • This is, in effect, the entirety of the God of War series. Highlights include:
    • The infamous sequence in the first game requiring you to sacrifice a live soldier to solve a puzzle, with said soldier wailing and begging for his life the entire time. This is the harshest example, but the game is full of this sort of thing.
    • Quick-time events in the second game forcing the player to smash helpless old men's skulls in as blood sacrifices.
    • Murdering everyone in Elysium in the PSP title.
    • About half the third game, including:


Interactive Fiction[edit | hide]

  • Infocom's Trinity required you to capture a skink (a lizard), only to kill it later on because a spell required as an ingredient "fresh whole lizard, killed in the light of a crescent moon".
  • In The Chancellor, you have to poison a friendly lamb and feed its body to a rock monster in order to enter a cave.
  • Zero Sum Game, where you basically have to be a dick and murder people, including your trusting sidekick Maurice, in order to win.
  • Rendition, by nespresso, but intentionally—you're a torturer.
  • In Varicella, you've got to kill all your rivals to win the regency, including betraying your country's army to bomb the General (or, just doing it yourself), and sending a remote-controlled car to crash on top of the King's Brother..
  • In Choice of Romance, you can only unlock the next chapter by getting involved with the very married king, right under his wife's nose. You either stay on as the other woman, or steal him (and the crown) for yourself by having the queen either killed or discredited. Choosing to just discredit her still ends up getting her killed.


MMORPG[edit | hide]

  • World of Warcraft has one quest in the game just stood out as a WTF moment: In the Borean Tundra you have captured an enemy mage, and the quest giver instructs you to extract information from him yourself, as his code of ethics won't allow him to personally perform the act. This involves repeatedly using an Agony Beam while he cries out in pain. Even further, after completing the quest, you can ask for another of the Agony Beams just to use it on him, for no in game gain.
    • Another questline has you find three Horde NPCs that had been captured and are being held in a human town. They are happy to see you... until you reveal that you'd been sent to kill them for having failed. They all die pitifully, one of them begging for his life. At this point, you've probably killed a dozen people to get to the individual cages they're in, and it would be trivial to unlock the cage and point to the exit, but you're not given an option.
    • The Death Knight starting quests. Among other things, it involves killing innocent villagers (most of whom who beg you to spare them), turning miners into zombies, torturing enemy soldiers, and executing an old friend of the player character. There's no option to skip any of this. Mitigated somewhat by them being part of the Scarlet Crusade--a faction also hostile to the Alliance and Horde—but even so....
  • RuneScape has several cases of these in their quests. One notorious example has a quest where you do multiple cruel tactics to move up the hierarchy of the Vyre society from taunting an imprisoned widow about their dead husband (one whom you killed in an earlier quest), destroying a slave's tithing glass and getting him executed to entertain a bored Vyrelord noble for his favor, and top it off, you must commit mass murder of human prisoners to entertain the guards. The trope gets rather subverted after the quest since you have the option of doing more cruel acts to get access to the highest rank possible. Let that sink in then the only cruel act left that you can do for the rank of Vyrelord is to repeat the last thing that was mentioned on the list.


Platform Game[edit | hide]

  • A pair number of puzzles in Banjo-Tooie require the senseless destruction of an anthropomorphic ice cube couple.
    • Moreover, across Banjo-Kazooie AND Banjo-Tooie the main characters are constantly harassing a camel named Gobi for his precious hump water, forcing him to move from world to world and across games.
  • Quite a few things in Conker's Bad Fur Day, but the king is when Conker hatches a baby dinosaurs, that loves him and calls him Mama... and then smashes it with a giant stone tablet in order to create a bridge. Conker has no problem whatsoever with this.
  • There is one instance in the old Sega Genesis game Dynamite Headdy. In one of the early levels, you come across a pipe in the ground that shoots out strange little round guys called Happy Campers. You have to knock them over into a bar fixed adjacent to you, brutally impaling them (and they turn blue and stop moving afterwards), so that you can hop on their corpses to get over a wall. Do it again to reach an extra life!
    • Many of the secret bonus points require beating up Al Bino, a mostly harmless custodian (though he can do damage to you in one instance).
  • One star in Super Mario Galaxy requires you to steal a shell from a penguin.


Real Time Strategy[edit | hide]

  • Numerous Command & Conquer games would have you do this:
    • The Soviet Campaign of Red Alert 1 started off with a massacre on a village that harbors escapees from a Sarin gas test. The ending FMV comes complete with an Empathy Doll Shot.
    • The Nod Campaign in Tiberian Dawn had numerous missions that had very little GDI and focused on destroying villages. Oum Hadjer being the most memorable.
    • The GLA Campaign missions two and three had you loot villages for the supplies the UN gave them and looting the whole city of Astana respectively.


Roguelike[edit | hide]

  • The Binding of Isaac follows the classic format of "kill all the enemies in the room to open the doors". One enemy in the game does nothing but run away from you while crying uncontrollably - you can't be hurt by them even if you try. You still have to cry at them until their heads explode if you want to make progress. On the other hand, their heads are apparently stuffed full of flies or sometimes bombs, so maybe it's more of a mercy-killing.


Role Playing Game[edit | hide]

  • In Etrian Odyssey Chieftain Visil orders you to kill the forest folk. Not much you can do about it, especially since you have to kill about twenty of them to get at the fourth stratum's boss.
  • Fallout 3 has many examples in the (story questline) 'Tranquility Lane', where the more obvious means of progressing the story is to visit torment on each of its residents, sometimes offering a variety of creative methods to achieve this. The good, more difficult way to finish this quest is to activate a failsafe that kills them all. It's a Mercy Kill, given the situation, but they're still being gunned downed by Chinese soldiers.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has a couple of examples that stand out in the main story quests as well:
    • Mr. House's story route requires you to wipe out the Brotherhood of Steel's underground bunker. And I mean, either, personally kill each and every last person there, or activate the bunker's Self-Destruct Mechanism. He absolutely, positively will not even entertain the idea of any other kind of solution (though he does have his reasons, granted).
      • It was originally possible to pass a Speech check to convince Mr. House to leave the Brotherhood alone, but it was Dummied Out. However, a mod exists that restores this option.
    • The other three ending paths will, at one point or another, require you to infiltrate the Lucky 38 and either execute a defenseless Mr. House in cold blood, or, if you're feeling particularly bastardly, leave him alive, but disconnected from his computer network and slowly wasting away from infections that he is no longer able to fight off.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the main plot requires you to buy a slave to serve as a wife to a tribal leader. She makes it clear she doesn't mind, but even after numerous plot-related killings, buying a slave can make some players twitch.
  • There's a city in Two Worlds that's supposedly surrounded by orcs, though they never appear outside the gates, and you have no opportunity to kill them. The only thing that's stopping them from getting in and killing everyone is a magical artifact under the city. In order to beat the game, you need to go underground and steal the artifact, and when you reach the surface, you'll discover that everyone in the city has been slaughtered by orcs. The best the player can do is complete a couple of quests that result in the quest-givers leaving town.
  • In Fable there are two types of optional quests, good and bad. The bad quests can go as extreme as murdering every innocent civilian in an entire settlement in cold blood (who will beg for mercy and everything). The thing is, the game does not make entirely clear in the quest choice list which quests are "good" and which are "bad". You can accidentally choose a bad quest without meaning to. Ok, no such a big deal, just cancel it or don't complete it? Nope. Once a quest has been selected, there's no way to cancel it. If the location of the quest happens to be in your main storyline path, and there's no way around it, you are forced to do the quest, or you cannot proceed. Unless you have a savegame from before selecting the quest, you have no other option than murder all those innocent civilians if you want to continue the game, who will scream and beg for their lives and ask you why you are doing this to them. Good luck having a good night sleep afterwards.
  • In Skyrim, the more vicious Daedric Princes order you to do horrible things for their artifacts (and you need to get all of them for an achievement). They usually involve betraying a companion or leading a good person to a horrible death. The less said about the things Namira, Molag Bal, Boethiah, and Vaermina demand of you, the better. That said, all of those are sidequests, and therefore don't have to be completed by the player unless you really want the rewards...although, the in-game rewards for these quests are good. Really damn good. Namira and Vaermina's quests, at least, can be intentionally "failed" if you're not quite ready to step over the Moral Event Horizon.
    • However, they're not the only morally dubious things required for One Hundred Percent Completion:
      • Thieves Guild: There are three achievements tied to completing the guild questline. By the time the guild questline has finished, the player will have robbed at least dozens of innocent people of items and money worth thousands and thousands of gold. It's not killing people, but it's still loathsome. Furthermore, the way the game works encourages the player to rob people blind, as theft is by far the simplest and easiest way to get material goods you want or need.
      • The Civil War Questline, another three trophies. This one can be YMMV, as plenty of people have no qualms about supporting one side or the other after looking at the situation fully—but other people see a situation with no good choices, only "less horrible" ones. Much like real wars in that respect, yes, but still depressing.
      • The Dark Brotherhood questline has another three achievements. And the Dark Brotherhood is, not to put too fine of a point on it, a quasi-cult that listens to a mummified corpse of the bride of the void god Sithis, who tells them which people to kill. The player's kills, if they follow this questline, include a man driven to insanity from his sister's death and a bride on her wedding day, among others. The player character is encouraged further to do these despicable things by great in-game rewards, such as access to Shadowmere.
      • There's an achievement for having a bounty of at least 1000 gold in all nine holds simultaneously, for which the player must get caught doing horrible things—for example, killing people. And then there's an achievement for escaping from jail, which of course requires going there in the first place.
      • In short, the game is so structured that while excessive cruelty is not really required to beat the main quest, the main quest is itself a very small part of the game as a whole, and the player is practically stuck with only half a game if they choose to play a Dragonborn who's actually a decent person.


Stealth Based Game[edit | hide]

  • The Neighbours From Hell series is based on this trope. The player is a Reality Show participant whose task is to cause a neighbor the maximum amount of grief in order to get the highest ratings. The second game adds the neighbor's mother and her dog to the list of acceptable targets. Granted, the neighbor is a jerk, but this seems a little excessive.
  • The ending of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. After you hear the Boss' detailed and incredibily noble reason for the Fake Defector "betrayal", you're asked to do the only thing available to stop the whole sordid affair from being entirely pointless. So you, the player, get to shoot the world's greatest hero in the head.


Survival Horror[edit | hide]

  • Horror game Penumbra: Overture is fairly standard storywise until the very end. Red, a mentally unstable man who communicates with you via a one-way radio, continually talks to you about the moment you two finally meet. When you do finally get to him, he's locked himself in an incinerator, and begs you to turn it on. He's swallowed the key you need to proceed. It's arguably a mercy killing, but it is necessary, and his screams will give you nightmares for weeks if you took a shining to his quirky personality.
  • The entire premise of Manhunt.


Third Person Shooter[edit | hide]

  • A "good" variation of this occurs in Shadow the Hedgehog, which has several areas where you're required to attack a flying Black Arms creature to be able to ride on it. This earns you points on the good side of the Karma Meter, but you have to do it even if you're trying to accomplish the evil mission. The Big Bad will even yell at you for doing so even though it's required to progress.


Turn Based Strategy[edit | hide]

  • Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon, in a mild variation, forces the player to sacrifice one of their early-game characters in its Normal Mode tutorial chapters. There are other ways around that, but they involve even more characters dying in a game where death is permanent and useful characters are a very valuable resource. Most players just throw Crutch Character Jeigan to the wolves.
    • That being said, the remake-sequel for this game, New Mystery Of The Emblem, reveals that the character who was the canonical sacrifice, Frey, actually survived the ordeal but lost his memory for some time (explaining his absence up until that point). Of course, if you prefer to play a Hard Mode, you won't play through the prologue chapters anyway.
  • In Cyber Storm, Bioderms are to be viewed this way and some of the HERCS weapons systems compels you to use the Bioderms as suicidal missiles to take down nastier cybrids and HERCS as they all have a limited lifespan and you can simply breed more of them.


Wide Open Sandbox[edit | hide]

  • It's theoretically possible to avoid killing innocents in Prototype, but in practice your civilian kill count will likely number in the hundreds within the first hour of gameplay even if you don't deliberately attack them, simply because they're everywhere and oh, so fragile. Trying to get through a fight without any collateral damage will almost always result in failure, especially if you're driving a tank around. And the easiest way to regain health is to grab the closest person and smash them open before absorbing their biomass. You don't have to...but gosh, wouldn't that extra health would be useful...?
    • Also if you accidentally grab an innocent civilian, it is impossible to let go of them without hurling them a few blocks.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, one of the missions involves burying a construction foreman alive in concrete merely because his workers made catcalls at your sister.
  • In order to continue with the game in Terraria, you need to throw a doll into the lava of the underworld. A VOODOO Doll of the Guide, Killing him in the process so you can summon the boss to advance.
  • About half of the Brotherhood quest chain of Saints Row 2 is an escalating prank war that turns deadly about halfway through. An early mission involves stealing toxic waste for use as tattoo ink. Later you kidnap the Brotherhood boss's girlfriend, lock her in her own car's trunk, and abandon her car at a monster truck rally for her boyfriend to run over. Yes, these people are violent jerks, but it's still unnecessarily cruel.
    • On the other hand, the aforementioned trunk locking is done as retaliation after the Brotherhood kidnapped one of your lieutenants, chained him to a trucks bumper, and took him for a drag through the Stillwater docks. After which he is so injured, your character is forced to give him a Mercy Kill. The toxic tattoo is a dick move in response to a ridiculously low-ball offer made by the Brotherhood's leader to split Stillwater between his gang and the recently reborn Saints.
  • In Bully, a lot of the unskippable missions involve you acting like a complete Jerkass (hey, it's in the title). In one, you have to sneak several racy pictures of a seventeen year old girl and post them up all over town. In another, you have to plant evidence to get a teacher fired. In yet another, you help the gross cafeteria lady Date Rape the science teacher.


Other / Unsorted[edit | hide]

  • Blazing Dragons: At one point you come to a psychiatric clinic that features among other people Rapunzel and the Pied Piper. Rapunzel is afraid of having any hair on her head and the Pied Piper thinks he must constantly play unless the rats come. What do you do? Use fast-grow hair tonic on Rapunzel and plant termites in the Pied Piper's pipe so they'll eat it.
  • In Runaway: A Road Adventure, you meet an artifact restorer who takes pride in her work and the fact that she hasn't destroyed a single artifact in her entire long career. You need her to restore something you have, but she won't do it until she finishes the work she has (which is a lot). You advance the plot by tampering with her equipment, causing her to break the item she's working on, which in turn causes her to have a mental breakdown.
  • The Path requires you to make your character waltz right into the Wolf. And if you played the game right, you have to do it only after really starting to care for the character as soon as you learn everything about them.
  • In Tiny Toons: Defenders of the Universe, you have to beat up Fifi LaFume at one point to continue. The reason? She is trying to stop you from doing something that she and Shirley have foreseen will lead to the Earth being doomed. Even though Babs (Her best friend) and Hamton (Her boyfriend) are present, they don't even try to talk her out of it. Turns out she was right.