Game Philosophy: Ghost Run

Gasp! Someone just shot an arrow through my head!

Meh, must’ve been the wind.


Today’s topic:
Ghost Run

If you’ve even casually played Stealth games, you’ve probably heard of the term “Ghost Run” or “Stealth Run” before. But for those who haven’t, it simply means that you go through the game without ever having been seen.

Basically… it’s a runthrough of a Stealth Game where you’re pretty much a ghost.

It’s usually is pretty arbitrary, since most Stealth Games actually allow you to be seen, it just means that a lot of enemies will now chase after you until you let the timer run out and all the enemies conveniently forget that you just murdered one of their friends with a silenced gun to the head.
(Note to self, beware of people in cardboard boxes, lost a guinea pig to one)

It’s pretty similar to a no-damage run. Most of the time it’s for bragging rights that you did it. There’s kind of a competitive nature to it.

And because of the competitive nature, some people up the challenge a bit by doing more than just “not being seen”.

Like a Thief

Take for example the “Supreme Ghost Run” that’s popularized by the Thief games.

The Thief Community didn’t settle for just “not having been seen”. They went the extra mile and basically came up with rules so that Garrett didn’t leave behind ANY clues whatsoever that he was even THERE.

Did you pass by a door that you’ve opened? Well you had better close it before the end of the level, because an open door that used to be closed is evidence that you’ve been through here.

Did you pickpocket someone to get a key to a locked door? Well you better RElock the door before the end of the episode as well as drop the key in the path of the person you pickpocketed, because a missing key as well as an unlocked door is yet again evidence that you’ve been here.

Did a guard even SUSPECT the wind or shadows as you sneaked past them? Too bad, start over, because that’s apparently enough evidence that people would suspect you’ve been there. Yes, it goes THAT pedantic.

“Um, actually, I’m not pedantic. I’m fastidious.”

The only thing you’re allowed to do are the things you HAVE to do to reach the goal of the mission on the highest difficulty. And seeing how the highest difficulty of each Thief Mission involves stealing a certain amount of loot and not killing anybody, that means you’re allowed to still steal any valuable thing in the level that you can steal (and Supreme Ghost Run rules usually says you have to steal everything). You also don’t kill anyone, but since you’re trying not to be seen and leave evidence, that’s already kind of a given.


So why WOULD someone go through all of this? Doesn’t that make the game a bit of a chore?

I mean, usually when playing a Stealth Game part of the fun is how the game changes depending on whether you’re seen or not.

Everything is slow and methodical when you aren’t seen. You stay out of the enemy’s view and look around carefully as you figure out your way to the goal.

Then you slip up and everyone who’s still alive starts to chase you! You frantically run to a safe spot so that you can hide from their view again!

Then you stay hidden, waiting for the heat to blow over! You sweat as a guard even HAPPENS to walk towards your corner, hoping that they may still miss seeing you hidden under the boxes!

All of that dynamic switching of gameplay kinda gets lost when you keep purposefully retrying the MOMENT a guard even goes “Huh, what was that?”, right?

Well, the thing with Ghost Runs is that they’re usually not something you’re gonna do the moment you start the game. It’s a challenge for people who’ve already played the game itself enough to actually plan out the route through the game before you actually perform it.

I see it as something of a test. You test the limits of the game itself. With the mechanics that the game has provided, is it POSSIBLE to DO all of this?

It’s kind of an ideal to follow, like the Seven Virtues. And admittedly, besides the bragging rights, there’s also a sense of truly feeling like you ARE the master of stealth that the game keeps PRESENTING you to be.

Garrett as a character truly feels like the Master Thief that can get in and out of every mission without leaving any evidence, when you’ve actually had the EXPERIENCE of doing exactly that!

Sure, no matter what, there’s always going to be story-related things that make it so that Garrett slipped up SOMEWHERE. Even the beloved Thief II: The Metal Age had “Mission 4: Ambush!” where it starts out with Garrett having been ratted out to the City Watch at the start of it and now Garrett has to find shelter from them. But the tension of hiding from the enemy gets enhanced even more.

Normally being seen simply means you’ll have to run from the enemy. Now, as part of the challenge, you’re basically obligated to start over when an enemy even catches a GLIMPSE of you. Not just that, it’s more than just survival for you, now you have a reputation to uphold!


For a lot of Stealth Games, it’s usually a bit of a snag for me when there’s a forced section where you’re suddenly seen. I personally think that when a Stealth Game has an exciting little section where you’re chased, it should be something optional that only happens when you ACTUALLY slip up.

Stealth Games are such a unique genre of games where your mode of play switches around based on the actions of the player. You’re not meant to enter an open room and kill all the enemies, you plan your routes to stay out of the enemy’s sights. That’s a distinction that should really be capitalized on for this genre to thrive.

Ghost Runs basically test the limits of the genre by showing that it IS possible to stay unseen throughout the whole game. It’s escapism where your cunning and wit can prove more powerful than any Mega Weapon of Doom the villains come up with.

Published by Huy Minh Le

Huy Minh Le is a Video Game Enthusiast, Movie Lover, Writer, Content Marketeer and regular TvTropes reader! His studies in Game Design, Art, and Writing has led to a very creative, yet analytical mind.

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