You Can Add Conflict Without Combat
There are several types of gameplay elements that don’t require combat or violence but can create conflict between the player and an enemy or the environment / game itself. You can add a timer to the action so that the player must travel, collect an item, defuse a bomb or some other objective before a certain time limit is reached. That ticking timer will certainly add drama and pressure to the task at hand. You can also make a subtle or major change to the speed of the gameplay by making things go faster than normal. You can even have the pace increasing steadily as the level or section plays out. This increase in pace lets the player know that they need to hurry up or focus under increased pressure. It creates real conflict and challenge if done right, but don’t be unfair with it. Consider a protection or guardian mission using a NPC (non-playable character) or some other object of value that is a target to be protected. The goal of this gameplay is to prevent damage (sometimes by destroying / deflecting incoming attacks) instead of causing damage.
Another tactic for creating non-violent conflict is to limit the options or space a player has such as moving in a limited direction, having limited ammo, limited vision etc. You can limit the area a player can move in or set up traps in tight spaces that require precision or using critical thinking skills. Using precision in movements, aiming at non-living targets or a precise timing of actions can also create conflict and challenge for a player without using violence. There are many ways you can experiment with non-violent gameplay to create as much action or more than basic combat can provide. Don’t forget you can mix violent and non-violent elements to create even more variety using the Mexican Pizza Technique.