Shoot to (do anything other than) kill
We've pretty much come to accept that video games have no problem giving players a firearm and letting them shoot anything that moves. Our gaming heroes have probably sent more bullets downrange than there are drops of rain during a thunderstorm. So when a gun comes along that doesn't exist to end lives, it feels that much more special.
The following video game weapons are a bit more inventive than your standard shooty bang bang implements of destruction. We're skipping the standard-fare stun guns and tranquilizers you can find in any old stealth game; first, there's a ton of them, and second, they're just not that imaginative. Let's take a look at the most inspired non-lethal firearms that gaming has to offer, shall we?
Medi-Gun (Team Fortress 2)
With so, SO many items added post-release, Team Fortress 2 covers almost every weaponry trope in the book. A few of them are uniquely non-lethal, like the Demoman's Sticky Jumper for practicing explosive-based air travel, or the Engineer's Rescue Ranger shotgun that fires a sentry-repairing bolt. But none are as iconic as the Medic's trusty Medi-Gun, the hose-like sidearm that sprays out healing instead of hurt. When you're constantly being riddled with bullets and singed by flamethrowers, getting shot by a Medi-Gun is the cure for all that ails you.
After enough beams of restorative energy have been blasted in your allies, you can even activate your berCharge, the Medic's trademark ability that grants eight seconds of glorious invincibility (as indicated by a team-colored neon glow). In a sense, the Medi-Gun and its user are accessories to millions of in-game murders, since berCharges are the biggest facilitator of game-winning killing sprees. But the Medi-Gun itself? Totally harmless--and, better yet, harm-relieving.
The Evoker (Persona 3)
Even if you've never played a Shin Megami Tensei game in your life, you're probably somewhat familiar with the Evoker. The imagery associated with it is so intense: teenagers putting a Ruger-like pistol directly to their heads and pulling the trigger. Contrary to what you might think, they're not taking their own lives in dramatic fashion--this is one method for summoning your Persona, a physical manifestation of your innermost feelings.
Rather than blasting out bullets, the Evoker causes a sort of ethereal shattered glass to spray from the other side of the user's cranium. After a flurry of jump-cuts, an almighty Persona will appear from a plume of fog. Every member of the after-school club Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad gets their own Evoker, though we're not sure the Gekkoukan High faculty approves of its students brandishing mystical firearms after class.
Happy Bubble Blaster (Just Cause 2)
With a name like that, how could you not love this weapon? Given how enamored Just Cause 2 is with wanton destruction, it's nice to see that main man Rico Rodriguez knows how to have a little light-hearted fun during his time spent on Panau. Unlike just about everything else in the game, the Happy Bubble Blaster does zero damage; if you're feeling really whimsical, you can even dual-wield them like two brightly colored plastic pistols.
But it seems that no one else on Panau appreciates this delightful children's toy as much as Rico. Pedestrians will run screaming when you try to brighten their day with a barrage of bubbles, and military officials will actually deem Rico a threat if he fires harmless suds in their direction. Then again, I imagine that if you aimed and shot a bubble gun at a humorless government official in real life, they'd probably do everything in their power to give you a hard time. Granted, they probably wouldn't immediately open fire on you like they do in Just Cause 2, but still.
Shark-O-Matic (Saints Row: The Third)
"But wait!" you say. "The moment you shoot someone with the Shark-O-Matic, an enormous great white shark bursts forth from the pavement and devours the target in a single bite! How is that not killing?!" Ah, but you see, my dear reader, the Shark-O-Matic itself merely blasts a splattering of slimy chum when fired. How can the user be to blame if a street shark just so happens to be swimming beneath the nearby concrete? All you're guilty of is covering random pedestrians in rotting fish guts; the rest was simply nature running its course.
If LucasArts was still around, it'd probably sue the pants off Volition, considering that this weapon is pretty much a complete rip-off of the Land Shark Gun from Armed and Dangerous, the only difference being that the Land Shark Gun was actually firing the sharks as ammunition. Of course, Saints Row does have plenty of original artillery concepts all its own--like the Mollusk Launcher, which shoots out cutesy, mind-controlling octopi that you can detonate remotely.
Portal Gun (Portal)
Oh sure, Aperture Science's official name for this technological marvel is "Handheld Portal Device," but come on. It's a gun that shoots colorful, space-altering portals, so let's just call a spade a spade. You probably shouldn't look down the barrel of this contraption and fire, but the Portal Gun is all about expanding one's mind with reality-bending possibility, rather than snuffing out lives. It's no wonder that GLaDOS saw fit to construct an entire training facility around the thing.
Admittedly, the Portal Gun can sometimes act as a deadly weapon. I imagine that anyone without Chell's Advanced Knee Replacements strapped to their calves would experience leg-shattering agony if they messed around with the Portal Gun's momentum-based possibilities. And there are those moments in co-op when the floor beneath you suddenly becomes a one-way ticket to a pool of toxic sludge. But the Portal Gun is primarily an invention meant to expand people's brains, rather than put holes in them. Besides, "Now you're thinking with bullets" just doesn't have that nice ring to it.
Zorcher (Chex Quest)
If you've never played the greatest piece of cereal marketing material ever, you've seriously been missing out. As a kid, trying to convince your parents to buy the hyper-violent Doom was a mighty tough sell--but reskin all those hellish demons into sentient globs of green snot, and suddenly this FPS is fun for the whole family! Of course, shooting your enemies with shotgun pellets and BFG blasts isn't very life-affirming--so instead, all the firearms were changed into Zorchers.
Zorchers come in many shapes and sizes--all parallels to Doom's arsenal--but they shoot out balls of bright red energy. In my younger days, I always assumed that firing these blasts of plasma at the antagonistic Flemoids was simply causing them to evaporate into thin air. But no: Once you've hit your target with enough Zorcher shots, it actually teleports the alien back to its own slimy dimension. These guns don't kill your enemies--they just return them to their natural habitats! If Zorchers existed in real life, humanity probably would've achieved world peace by now.
Solar Gun (Metal Gear Solid 4)
Ok, ok, we totally said stealth-based tranquilizers would be excluded from this list--but this here piece is worth making an exception. The Solar Gun is powered entirely by sunlight, and might be the most effective non-lethal method for dispatching enemies this side of wrapping them in bubble wrap and packing tape. When fully charged, the Solar Gun blasts a pulse of energy that knocks enemies out cold with the power of the sun's radiation. Praise the sun!
This doohickey looks pretty goofy compared to all the hyper-realistic ordnance and futuristic warmachines that define the Metal Gear series, but there's a pretty cool reason for the discordant style. The solar gun is an exact replica of the Knight pistol from Lunar Knights, the most recent entry in Konami's Boktai series that encouraged gamers to grab their handhelds and actually go outside for some actual sunlight. Hideo Kojima was the producer on that series, which explains why Solid Snake can brandish such a unique, child-friendly weapon on the battlefield.
Gal Gun (Gal*Gun)
Imagine waltzing into a publisher's office and pitching them on a rail shooter where you aim and fire at crowds of teenage girls with an actual pistol. You're guaranteed to be escorted off the premises and possibly jailed. Alternatively, you could change the deadly weapon being discharged at underage women into a love gun--that way, you're only half as likely to be kicked out and/or jailed.
The premise of this sexually-charged light gun shooter is that Tenzou, the average student you play as, accidentally got shot repeatedly by a Cupid-in-training and is now the most desirable dude on campus. To fend off the hordes of aroused women that are now desperate for your affection, you'll have to shoot them with pheromone shots, until the girls reach such a heavenly state of ecstasy that they eventually just pass out. No wonder this game comes with a "Mom's entering the room" panic button to instantaneously hide all the on-screen debauchery.
Morph-O-Ray (Ratchet & Clank)
It seems so innocent, so playful--but one of the most memorable weapons in the original Ratchet & Clank may also be one of its darkest. When you think about it, being forced to live out the rest of your days as a chicken is probably a fate worse than death. Your advanced intellect, trapped with a feathery, beaked body; living in fear that one day, you will actually lay an egg containing a baby chicken embryo. The very thought is making me seriously consider going vegetarian.
Though the Gadgetron-brand Morph-O-Ray only appeared in the first game, its legacy carried on throughout the entire R&C series. Plenty of other space-age technologies tried to emulate its hilarious power, including (deep breath) the Sheepinator, Qwack-O-Ray, Mootator, Pork Bomb Gun, Boar-Zooka and Chimp-O-Matic. And yes, their upgraded forms are just as gloriously punny, like the Black Sheepinator and Armoogeddon. Outstanding.
The pacifist's Peacemaker
Any other good non-lethal guns in gaming that you can think of? I'm sure Splatoon's ink-filled Super Soakers (pictured above) will make an excellent addition to this list some day.