You ran out of Hit Points. You lost your last life. The character you're supposed to protect has stumbled off a cliff face. Your Mons have all fainted.
It's GAME OVER for you.
So now what? The nicest games might just let you off with a warning, less forgiving games might make it so that Continuing is Painful or send you back to a checkpoint, and weird games might let you play through your afterlife or otherwise change the game through your death. If you're really unlucky, then it's back to the start of level for you... or even the entire game.
Of course, if you're really lucky, the game over screen will simply read Fission Mailed or the game will let you continue anyway.
This is, at its most basic, the condition of having lost the game. Some text or animation appears to let you know you've lost, and there's nothing left to do but start over. You can achieve Game Over by...
- Running out of Hit Points or Video-Game Lives. In a game where one can be Killed Off for Real, this occurs if the main character or a plot-important character dies.
- Failing critical mission objectives (such as letting the target of an Escort Mission die)
- Certain circumstances (covered in Unwinnable) don't technically result in a game over, but prevent you from continuing further into the game.
- Older arcade games and games that are too lazy to give you a special victory screen will simply show you the standard game over screen if you just beat the game. Because of course, your game is over in that situation, too. To modern gamers who are not used to arcade games, it can be rather jarring to see a screen associated with death being used to indicate success, especially if the music is still there…
- Also, newer arcade games with save systems give you the same standard game over screens after you decide to leave the game, and your progress is being saved. Same as above but they let you to pick up your save states.
In the earliest games, you had to start over from the very beginning, but later games provided a password so you could continue from a later spot, and eventually game saves to fulfill the same purpose more conveniently. Some games also let you 'continue' from the same level you were previously on. Indeed, the game over has been such an Omnipresent Trope that some games use the phrase whenever you have in some way failed, even if this failure does not in any conceivable way end your game.
Messaging accompanying a Game Over can include...
- A description of the player character's fate.
- The spotlight being placed on the player character's demise, sometimes literally.
- Some Guilt-Based Gaming lecturing the player on their failure and its consequence on the game world.
- Making fun of the player.
- A pep talk encouraging the player to try again, possibly coming from the player character themselves.
- A specific tip to help for next time.
- Accompaniment from a Game-Over Man (no, not Pvt. Hudson).
- Cruel or sad outcomes when the player screwed up and failed the mission, punishing players by making them look at what they have done. This variation is often put into Tear Jerker or Nightmare Fuel.
A Non Standard Game Over is a variant that occurs in special circumstances, when you've really screwed the pooch.
Also the name of a single by Club Caviar. It is also the title of a book, an adult CGI animated series, and the third Spy Kids movie.
This trope is too ubiquitous for a proper examples list; we'd be here all century if we tried. Examples go in the Quotes section.