Nobody has won. Nobody ever will.
An Unwinnable Joke Game is a game that has a clear win condition, but this condition cannot be reached, and this is intentional on the part of the designer. These are almost always meant as a joke.
Compare Unwinnable by Mistake
, where the game cannot be won because of a design flaw, Unwinnable by Design
which is a serious game that is designed so that certain circumstances will render it unwinnable, as well as Endless Game
and Wide Open Sandbox
, which don't have a win condition in the first place.
Certain gambling machines may fall under this trope, but most countries have laws against slot machines that never actually allow you to win the jackpot.
- The infamous Scary Maze Game is an online prank where your goal is to manuever your way through a maze, but the third level is impossible to beat as, when you get to a certain point in the third level, a close-up image of Regan from The Exorcist pops up and screams. Though if you can manage to not jump like crazy, you can still make it to the end.
- In Steamshovel Harry, the Earth will be destroyed by a missile in ten minutes, and only you can stop it! The tutorial takes 9 minutes and 58 seconds, causing you to lose immediately afterwards.
- Super Kingio Bros is a version of Super Mario Bros. with the King of Town replacing Mario. Unfortunately, he can't jump high enough to pass the first Goomba, so it's probably just as well that you don't actually get the three lives shown.
- Zephyr Skies: The Winter Sage starts out as a typical RPG, but then it glitches and turns into playing tetris/matching up pictures. It may actually be winnable in terms of getting perfect score, but the results don't change and the game repeats in an infinite loop.
- Most Remar Games have a highest difficulty level called "Reallyjoel's Dad" that is completely impossible. Examples include Hero Core, Iji, and Hyper Princess Pitch.
- The creators of The Room The Game released what appeared to be the equivalent for The Hunger Games... on April 1st. It becomes a test to see how many times a player can take one of Clove's throwing knives to the head before giving up.
- Every single Luna Game.
- The Interactive Fiction Suspended becomes this if you play on Impossible mode, where the sun goes nova in two turns.
- Likewise, Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors has its own Impossible Mode, where Lou Reed appears and kills the duo, then tells the player, "Impossible doesn't mean very difficult. Very difficult is winning the Nobel Prize; impossible is eating the Sun."
- The infamous Marathon Man challenge from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Don't listen to any fans claiming to have done it or have found some way to do so, or even people who have cheated and beaten it with 0:00 on the time or less, the Marathon Man will always beat you to the Kokori Forest bridge—even Word of God has confirmed that he cannot be beaten. Anyone who dares to say otherwise tends to hit a Fandom Berserk Button.
- In Castle Smurfenstein, a hacked version of the original Apple II Castle Wolfenstein, the game was deliberately modified so that it's impossible to get past the first level.
- I-Mockery's Tetris: Charity Edition. The intro screen promises that I-Mockery will donate money to charity for every player that clears 20 lines or more in A-Type mode (no such promises for R-Type mode). However, once you breach the 15-line mark, NES characters fall instead of Tetris blocks. They... can't fit together in any line-clearing fashion. Then the game's ending chastizes you for not even being able to clear twenty measly lines. Truly, one of I-Mockery's cruelest April Fools' Day jokes of all time.
- Its R-Type mode is equally unbeatable, since the Advancing Wall of Doom eventually moves too fast for you to destroy quick enough.
- It's still possible to sneak in a Tetris after you clear line 16, if an I piece is next, clearing 20 lines total. However, you still do not advance to level 3, as the game refuses to recognize that last cleared line, and sticks the counter at 19.
- Ironically subverted in Starfleet Academy on the Super Nintendo. You are given The Kobayashi Maru scenario as a graduation requirement. It's supposed to be unwinnable. However, due to the way the video game is designed, it's entirely possible to engage the Klingons and beat them.
- The C64 graphic text adventure Castle of Terror was famous for being literally unwinnable by design. Though a gaming magazine published an account from a reader who claimed to have completed the game, he proved uncontactable when asked for more information. Many years later, the game's creator was eventually tracked down and admitted what many had suspected for years: it was in fact impossible to kill the Count (the main point of the game), and no more than 243 of the 290 total points could be earned.
- A recurring Minigame in The Simpsons video games, "Larry The Looter", is completely unwinnable. Immediately after looting the electronics store (the only store it's possible to loot), Larry is gunned down by the angry store owner.
- Pippin Barr's games are usually more like critical commentary than actual games, and "Zorba" is no exception; you can't win, because the computer-controlled character will never make a mistake.
- A non-game version appears in this Democratic Party web ad, which presents a big red button to "GET THE DETAILS" about Republican candidate Mitt Romney's tax plan. The button dodges away whenever the cursor approaches it, as a visual metaphor for the ad's accusation of evasiveness.
- It's actually possible to press the button by using the keyboard, but it doesn't do anything anyway.
- Pump It Up has a few charts that are not meant to be possible. Bee (Another) (Nightmare) is one such example, in addition to using the arrows to spell out developer names. Ditto RAW.
- Windows FreeCell has two Easter Egg selectable games, #-1 and #-2, where it's clearly impossible to move enough cards to move any cards to the home cells. (On the other hand, some versions also have #-3 and #-4, where making any move will instantly win the game.)
- There exist several Danmakufu troll scripts. These troll scripts usually combine Unwinnable Joke Game with Stylistic Suck because the patterns wouldn't be very good even if the difficulty were reasonable. This is a nice example.
- On April Fools' Day 2011, the Trophy Maker in Kingdom of Loathing sold a trophy to players for having less than 10,000 meat in their inventory. The trophy was only available to players who currently fulfilled the condition. Trophies cost 10,000 meat to purchase, and the meat can only come from the player's inventory.
- Freedom Bridge is a deliberately unwinnable game that is not a joke. The objective is to cross the Freedom Bridge between North and South Korea. If your character does not die due to the huge bleeding wounds inflicted by barbed wire fences on their approach, they are shot by a sniper after stepping onto the bridge.
- Segway of the Dead, a game by the creators of Road Of The Dead, was presented as the latter game's sequel. Just one problem: no matter how fast you get the segway going, you cannot possibly break through the crowd of zombies. Never trust a game that comes out on April Fool's Day. (The creators later put out a video of the angriest reviews Segway of the Dead got.)
- Warcraft II includes a joke custom map in which the player only controls a single peasant surrounded by dozens of AI enemy controlled units. Predictedly, it ends with a defeat after a couple of seconds. The unwinnable status of the mission is even lampshaded in its file name ("Suicide") and ingame description ("If you win, you're Warcraft god" or something like that).
- It is possible to win it if you can enter the invincibility cheat quickly enough.
- xkcd has a strip about Tetris. Predictably, someone on the internet made a game like that. And some managed to score lines in it.
- An in-universe example appears in the Brit Com Mr. Don and Mr. George. The two title characters are shown playing a board game, which George is winning by declaring a series of increasingly bizarre moves. It is then revealed that Don never gets any moves, and the game is called "George, You're Simply the Best."
- In The Wheel of Time there's a board game called Snakes and Foxes, which is usually played by children who haven't realized that it's impossible to win without cheating. In-universe the game is a reference to the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn – if you enter their land through the Tower of Ghenjei you cannot escape without violating the treaty against using fire, iron or music, and even then it's very hard. Olver somehow wins the game when Mat, Thom and Noal rescue Moiraine from the Aelfinn and the Eelfinn.
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni talks about the game of "Old Geezer", which is like Old Maid but without an unpaired card.