Unwinnable Joke Game

Nobody has won. Nobody ever will.

"This is the Impossible difficulty, boys. 'Impossible' doesn't mean 'very difficult'. Very difficult is winning the Nobel Prize; impossible is eating the Sun."

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, Unwinnable by Insanity, which is a game that is rendered unwinnable by the player doing things which no one would think to do, as well as Endless Game and Wide Open Sandbox, which don't have a win condition in the first place, and Unwinnable Training Simulation if it's meant as a practice run. For games (including joke games) that are horrendously difficult but have a win condition that is intended to be actually achievable, the trope you're looking for is Nintendo Hard (or, in very extreme cases, Platform Hell)

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.

For example:

Video Games
  • The Riddle School series' fourth game is like this. You try to do anything and you promptly die. Which is actually the idea.
  • Beep Boop Bitcoin presents itself as an Idle Game where you mine as many Bitcoins as possible and make money off them. It only presents a means to obtain Bitcoin, but not a way to change it back unto normal dollars: The trading exchange has delays sending out payments, the bitcoin investment is a Ponzi, and when you manage to get Bitcoins from your miner, it catches fire and causes your house to burn down. There is a "victory condition" after that, but...
  • The infamous Scary Maze Game is an online Screamer 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 is far longer than that, causing you to lose immediately afterwards.
  • Super Kingio Bros on Homestar Runner 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.
  • 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.
  • The Interactive Fiction Suspended becomes this if you play on Impossible mode, where the sun goes nova in two turns.
  • Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors:
    • The "Smoke & Mirrors" game has its own Impossible Mode, where Lou Reed appears and kills the duo by shooting lightning from his eyes, then tells the player, "Impossible doesn't mean very difficult. Very difficult is winning the Nobel Prize; impossible is eating the Sun."
    • Many of the other games in the unreleased collection are pranks set up in favour of player one, making them Unwinnable Joke Games for player two.
  • 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. 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.
    • Its R-Type mode is equally unbeatable, since the Advancing Wall of Doom eventually moves too fast for you to destroy quick enough.
  • 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.
  • The hilarious game hack Uwe Boll's Punch Out!! allows you (as "Little Tax") to take on Uwe Boll in the boxing ring. Punches score points but do no damage and you can't run out the clock since it's not running. Possible subversion: if Little Tax survives long enough, Uwe Boll does eventually run out of moves. Then the game crashes.
  • 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. Similarly, some Stepmania charts that were clearly made as jokes are so insane, even the autoplay fails.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Predictably, 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.
  • Hate Plus has an achievement that is absolutely impossible to achieve: Level Four Revive Materia. According to the description, you must finish the game with ONLY the version of *Mute that you started with. However, *Mute is Driven to Suicide at the end of Day 2, and the rest of the game is spent with the older version of *Mute that you restore, and there is no way around this. Note that using the Harem version, while allowing *Mute to survive, doesn't fulfill the conditions. As, it said only.
  • Shortly after Brazil was trampled 7-1 by Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a Brazilian programmer decided to enhance the Self-Deprecation with "Gol da Alemanha Simulator". There the player controls a Brazilian attacker, when one of the other players is a traffic cone, the other nine filled to the brim with Artificial Stupidity, and the opposing German team actually knows what is doing.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has the Marathon Man challenge, presented as a legitimate competition. No matter how fast you run, he will always beat you by exactly one second, even if you use a cheat device to lock the timer at 0 seconds.
  • Retro City Rampage has the Hastings Betting Zoo's "Donkey Race", where the player can bet money on a donkey racer. Except the donkey the player has chosen will never win, no matter how much money is bet on it. To further lampshade that, most donkeys are named with mocking names, like "Badluck", "Youlose" & "Thxfoyomoney".
  • The French equivalent of The Onion, called Le Gorafi, hyped Twitter about a mini-game, Super Gorafi News Turbo where the player could experiment the day of a journalist working there by collecting microphones and verified sources and beating some bosses at the end of the levels. Several screenshots were even published on the Twitter account of the satirical website and it was announced that the game would contain a dozen of levels. When the game was released, it appeared that it was impossible to jump over the first hole of the first level. Hacking the source code in order to pass these holes revealed that the level consisted basically of these two holes and then, nothing. Worst of all, some people on Twitter jumped into the bandwagon by bragging how killing some bosses was hard. and were even retweeted from Le Gorafi! Considering that the game was made by a professional graphic designer, why the hell would he put any effort to code a full-fledged game if he couldn't get any income from it?
  • Inverted with this self-solving Chess problem as being an unloseable joke game. Its goal is to mate the black king in six moves, however all of white's legal moves lead invariably to checkmate after six moves.
  • Pit Jumper in 20 Useless Apps.
  • Iji has a hidden difficulty "reallyjoel's Dad". Supposedly, you have two minutes to kill all the enemies and get to the exit or you explode. Not only is killing all the enemies in two minutes completely impossible, but the source code reveals that the laser barrier blocking the exit won't open even if you do. Unless, of course, you're reallyjoel's Dad.
  • Some Creepypasta style games are intentionally impossible to beat. Sonic.exe for example has you playing as Tails, Knuckles and Dr. Eggman retrospectively, but no matter what you do, you'll always end up being killed by Sonic.exe himself at the end of each level.
  • Red Carpet Rampage is a flash game where you play as Leonardo DiCaprio trying to win an Oscar. The game is programmed to keep getting harder and harder until you lose, making it unwinnable. The developers have stated that if DiCaprio himself ever contacts them, they'll give him a cheat code to a special ending.
    • Subverted, now that Leonardo DiCaprio actually won an Oscar, they programmed in an ending and a boss fight.

Game Shows
  • Truth or Consequences: Virtually every time, a T or C stunt or skit was set up with one of these, a riddle that either is impossible for any reasonable person to answer, or a time limit that elapses so quickly that no one has a chance to even begin the process of answering.

Other Games
  • One of the earliest computerized examples is El Ajedrecistanote  from 1914, a game against a chess automaton in which a human player plays a bare king against the automaton's king and rook. As any chess player with some knowledge of the endgame will tell you, the player cannot win or stalemate, and will inevitably be checkmated.

Fictional Examples

  • Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies: "The Ducksters", a 1950 cartoon starring Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, a parody of the then-popular Truth or Consequences. The questions are even more ridiculously impossible than the real life show (e.g., "Who, mind you WHO, was the referee for the New Zealand heavyweight championship fight in 1726"). Although Porky is able to avert the trope several times with unexpected correct answers (for instance, he successfully answers "Arbuckle Dreen" to the New Zealand boxing match question), other times the question is just plain intentionally impossible to answer, resulting in Porky suffering brutal punishment. One example has Daffy asking Porky to identify Ms. Shush (a parody of a recurring T or C contest) from only a horribly scratched record (which Daffy claims is Shush "brushing her teeth on Wednesdays"), before taking him to meet "her" (actually Mamie, an ill-tempered gorilla). Eventually, Porky is able to turn the tables on Daffy when he takes the prize money Daffy gives him to mollify his temper, buys the radio station, and gives Daffy an impossible question of his own.
  • xkcd has a strip about Tetris. Predictably, someone on the internet made a game like that. And some managed to score lines in it.
  • South Park has "Heroin Hero", it's a game that is suppose to relieve anyone of stress, there's no score or time limit. The objective of the game is to chase a pink dragon through a magical enchanted forest while injecting simulated heroin. Except the dragon can never be caught.
  • 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. The game is never described in much detail, just that it's a circular board with a web of lines across it, some of which restrict movement to one direction. There are ten Snakes and ten Foxes, represented by small discs with wavy lines or triangles, respectively. The player, represented by a black disc, begins in the center of the web, and the objective is to have the player reach the outside of the web and then return to the center. Each disc moves in turn, based on a roll of a (presumably six-sided) die, and the Snakes and Foxes may only move by the shortest possible route toward the nearest player. Unless there's some quirk to the board design or rules that is never explained to the reader, it doesn't sound 'impossible' to win, just obscenely unlikely. In essence, you have to have Mat's luck to pull it off.
  • In an episode of Rugrats, Stu, Drew, and company go to a minature golf course, and are promised free games if they get a hole-in-one on the final hole, the Ice Cream Mountain. However, this is impossible, as unintentionally revealed by the kids, who sneak into the inside of Ice Cream Mountain (under the impression that actual ice cream to find exists in it) and remove the paper cover that blocks balls going into the mountain from exiting through the chute that results in a hole-in-one. As a result, they end up accidentally inverting this trope, causing every player's ball to go into the hole for holes-in-one, much to the dismay of the course owner.
  • A darkly humorous folklore game is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto pistol. For those who aren't gun nuts: a revolver, the type of handgun you usually play Russian Roulette with, has several chambers (traditionally six, occasionally five or seven for different size bullets), one of which is loaded. So your chance of survival after a round of Russian Roulette is 5/6 (or 4/5, or 6/7, depending on the model of revolver). A semi-auto pistol has only one chamber. The bullet is fed into that chamber automatically. Playing the game will kill you with 100% probability (or 99%, depending on the gun quality).
    • One man who did this ended up in the Darwin Award.
    • There was a tabletop RPG player describing a Spacemaster (Rolemaster In Space) game where one of the players at the table won such a game. The character put the gun to his head, and rolled a critical failure, jamming the gun. Then, he passed it to the Big Bad, who checked that yes, the gun was truly jammed, and played his turn. The Big Bad rolled a critical success, unjamming the gun and blowing his head off. The story is on "Le Domaine de Saladdin" (in French) if you want to read it.